The fastest land mammal in North America is again running free in north central Washington after a long absence. In late January, the Colville Tribes relocated 52 pronghorn antelope onto their reservation as part of a reintroduction effort.
Indiscriminate hunting and habitat loss a century ago nearly wiped out pronghorn populations in the American West. They've bounced back most everywhere except in Washington state. In 2011, the Yakama Nation and a sportsmen’s group relocated nearly 100 pronghorn antelope onto tribal lands south of Toppenish.
Now the Colville Confederated Tribes are getting in the act.
"We're just really excited,” Colville Tribes' Fish and Wildlife Director Randy Friedlander said. “Now we will start monitoring and we're going to keep our fingers crossed that they do well. What seems to resonate is the idea of bringing back a species that has been lost for some time, kind of like a restoration effort. That fits really well within our tribe."
Friedlander said the reintroduced pronghorns were captured in northern Nevada. If the population takes hold, he said the tribe may consider allowing some hunting.
Wildlife biologists from the tribe fitted radio tracking collars on most of the adult pronghorns to assist in monitoring. The animals were released in shrub-steppe habitat in the southwest corner of the Colville Indian Reservation. The area lies around the northwestern extent of the pronghorns’ former range.
Today large herds of pronghorn can be sighted in southeastern Oregon, southern Idaho and northern Nevada as well as in grasslands and sagebrush plains to the east.
In an interview with public radio Friday, Friedlander said the relocated antelope were screened and underwent blood tests prior to release to avert the possibility of inadvertently spreading animal diseases such as brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis.