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Stating the Obvious About Pronghorn Declines

I've been reading up on a topic that's been a big concern of late - especially in the western-half of Wyoming. It seems that elk, mule deer and pronghorn herds are all on the decline, and have been for a couple of years. Sportsmen and conservationists have been concerned, and they have every right to be.

Of course one of the major concerns is the gowing businesses of coal, coal bed methane, and natural gas - all of which are very abundant in Wyoming. There is also the concern about the loss of habitat from wind power, but once the construction crews leave, and there is only a mainenance crew of a handful of workers, the antelope don't seem to be overly concerned about the presence of the big steel monsters. The biggest concern seems to be the increasing size of the Jonah Field (natural gas) - just to the east of a major migration corridor for mule deer and pronghorn.

Between that, and loss of habitate, it would logical to jump to the conclusion that it is just a matter of loss of habitat. Not only are the oil fields growing, but the town of Pinedale, and other communities, are growing, because the workers need somewhere to live, shop, and relax.

There is also the question of natural causes for the decline of the big game herds - the amount of food available, and predators. Most articles I've read barely touch the subject, leaving the reader to assume that the decline of the herds is due soley to the increase of man's influence in the area. But just like many other subjects, the question is too complex to be left to one cause or the other. So we have to realize that there are a number of factors at work here.

I've been reading a study - ok - actually a master's thesis done by a student working towards a Master of Science in Wildlife Biology. Scholarly papers are not usually my cup of tea for relaxing entertainment since they have to be written in a certain scholarly way (there are many other adjectives that can be inserted in place of the word "scholarly"). And I've written a few of these myself. I never minded writing papers. It's the way that they have to be presented and formatted that gets my dander up. It would be nice if they could be written in a more entertaining and interesting way, but... I digress.

Anyway - this person studies the question of removal of coyotes and the effect on pronghorn and mule deer herds in Wyoming (and this is from a student at Utah State University). My first question is why did it take a study or a master's thesis to figure something out that is common sense in the observable world.

The jist of the paper is what the effect the removal of coyotes has on the size of mule deer and pronghorn herds. Coyotes were trapped and shot. Shot from airplanes and helicopters, as well as on the ground. Some areas were left alone, and mule deer and pronghorn populations were studied in all areas, then compared.

Areas where coyotes were left alone, populations of mule deer and pronghorn either stayed in decline or leveled off. In areas where coyotes were hunted/trapped, herd populations went up the following year (is anyone surprised by this? If you shoot the predators then the herd increases! Imagine that!) Does anyone know of a "scholarly way" to say "Duh! Ya think?"?

But there was another factor that was overlooked, and has been completely overlooked by every news artical and paper dealing with this subject. In 1995 wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone. If you know your Wyoming geography you know that the Jonah Fields and the Green River Basin are in migration distance from Yellowstone. At first the wolves hadn't strayed too far from Yellowstone, but as their numbers have increased, the packs have needed more room to stretch out and call their own. Now there are reports from as far away as Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado that more wolves are beeing seen. And where do you suppose all of those wolves came from? (Oddly enough, Wyoming Game & Fish doesn't acknowledge the presence of wolves in eastern Wyoming, even though wolves have been spotted in the Dakotas. But then again, I suppose those could be wolves reintroduced into Michigan. But that's a whole 'nother blog.)

Generally wolves will chase coyotes out of an area, but there would still be areas were there are both. If both predators were in certain areas, that would certainly mean bad news for elk, mule deer and pronghorn. Now there is another predator added to the list that already takes it's toll on the herd populations.

Not one newspaper or magazine story, nor study has mentioned the rising wolf population along with the decline of the elk/mule deer/pronghorn herds. While at the same time blaming solely the intrusion of man (more or less). Well, yes it was man's fault. By reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone, and then not allowing resonable controls long after the wolf packs have been reestablished.