Through our efforts to maintain, restore and connect Washington’s shrub-steppe landscapes, we’re helping pronghorn antelope recover.
A remarkable species is returning to Washington, and we’re working to ensure it makes a successful recovery. Following more than a century of extirpation (local extinction) from the state, pronghorn antelope are once again prancing through the shrub-steppe of central Washington.
Easily spotted by their reddish-brown color, white undersides and short, pronged horns, this species is an iconic animal to watch as its white rumps streak across the landscape. Through our Sagelands Heritage Program, we’re supporting their reintroduction to Washington state.
News on pronghorn
- June 2019: Letter to WDFW Director, Commission on pronghorn recovery
- May 2019: Speak up for pronghorn in Washington
- March 2019: Returning home; the pronghorn’s journey back to Washington
- February 2019: State joins tribes, sportsmen in reintroduction of native ‘speed goats’
Pronghorn in Washington
A native of North America’s plains, prairies and shrub-steppe, pronghorn historically ranged from the Columbia River in central Washington state to Mexico. Overhunting and habitat fragmentation led to their extirpation across the Inland Northwest by the late 1800’s. Small clusters of pronghorn remained in the Rocky Mountains and western Great Plains.
After several unsuccessful attempts by the state to restore pronghorns to Washington in the mid-20th Century, reintroduction efforts revived in 2011 when the Yakama Nation released 99 pronghorn from Nevada onto their reservation. Additional animals were released over later years, including 49 in January 2019. This small but growing Yakama pronghorn population now roams from the reservation southwest of the city of Yakima to Hanford Reach National Monument north of Richland.
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have also instituted a pronghorn reintroduction program, citing the cultural and subsistence importance of the species for member tribes. 52 pronghorn from Nevada were released onto the Colville Reservation in southern Okanogan County in 2016. 98 more were released in October 2017. Both releases included animals fitted with GPS collars to monitor their movements and recovery progress.
After their release, many of these pronghorn managed to swim south across the Columbia River, and now reside in several small groups ranging mostly private lands in Douglas and Grant counties. These are critical areas for our Sagelands Heritage Program, and pronghorn here are managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in coordination with the Colville Tribes.
What we’re doing for Washington’s pronghorn
Pronghorn can migrate up to 150 miles, often following the same routes for generations. But because they evolved in open landscapes, pronghorn cannot, or do not, jump, making traditional barbed-wire fences present a formidable barrier. Instead, they try to go under or through them, often getting tangled and sometimes dying from starvation. Human development, highways and habitat fragmentation present additional threats to their natural movements in search of food and mates.
Throughout our Sagelands Heritage Program, we’re prioritizing habitat connectivity to ensure Washington’s shrub-steppe species have suitable corridors as they move across this landscape. The main focus of our work is a “Connected Backbone” of important habitat linkages that runs north-south east of the Cascade Mountains, which includes many areas of remaining pronghorn habitat in Washington!
We’re working with the Colville and Yakama tribes, the state, and other local stakeholders and landowners to produce a brochure and other outreach resources for private landowners with information on coexisting with pronghorns in Washington.
We’re also removing unnecessary fences on public lands, and phasing out traditional barbed-wire fences for more wildlife-friendly options. Pronghorn can safely move under these fences, while still keeping cattle inside. And we’re actively restoring sagebrush—pronghorn’s main source of food—as well as bitterbrush and other native plants.
Additionally, we’re advocating for state and federal legislation that supports pronghorn habitat, as well as federal funding to provide farmers and ranchers incentives to retain natural habitat for pronghorn and other species on their working lands.
We hope our efforts will someday allow pronghorn restoration programs to expand to state and federal wildlife areas in Washington’s shrub-steppe, such as those around Ellensburg where we’ve been improving Green Dot road systems and installing informational kiosks.
- Despite their name, pronghorn are not related to true antelope. In fact, their closest relatives are actually the giraffe and okapi.
- Individuals typically weigh between 90 and 130 pounds, with males (bucks) exhibiting “pronged” horns that can extend up to 20 inches. Females (does) have small, spiky horns. Unlike deer and elk, these are considered horns, not antlers, and only an outer “sheath” is shed every spring before being regrown the following summer.
- Pronghorn are the fastest land animal in the Western Hemisphere, and can run up to a speed of 60 miles per hour.
- Depending on habitat needs and weather conditions, pronghorns can migrate up to 150 miles—one of the longest mammal migrations in North America.
- Pronghorn have very strong vision, and similar to white-tailed deer, raise the white hairs on their rumps to warn other pronghorn when they sense danger.