It’s no big secret that antelope herds will drift southward out of Canada during a tough winter and stack up along the Hi-Line of Montana. Sometimes, they’ll even cross the Missouri River and Fort Peck Reservoir to find wintering habitat.
But the travels these animals make, the pathways they use and the effects of man-made developments on their migrations hasn’t been studied in depth.
An international pronghorn antelope study is now entering its third and final year to discover how it all falls together.
Ron Selden, information officer for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Glasgow, reports that state, federal, nongovernmental and provincial researchers are putting radio collars on 40 antelope this year to track their movements.
“The project is designed to remotely track pronghorn antelope across parts of northern Montana and southern Canada and monitor where they spend their time,” Selden wrote. “The collars store GPS coordinates and are programmed to fall off after a year. Biologists then collect the collars, download the coordinates into a computer, and build a map that shows the movements of each animal. Almost all of the collars attached over the last two years have been recovered.”
Helicopter netting crews are used to capture the antelope for collaring.
Twenty animals were captured, collared and released in the same winter range in northern Phillips County and another 20 animals were targeted in wintering herds near Glasgow and Nashua in northern Valley County.
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Selden said the study is run through a research advisory board composed of the World Wildlife Fund and the University of Calgary, Alberta. Among other entities, major players in the project include FWP and the Bureau of Land Management, the agencies’ provincial counterparts in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the University of Montana, the Alberta Conservation Association and several Canadian energy companies.
Jeff Herbert, assistant administrator of FWP’s Wildlife Bureau, added, “The project is intended to assess how antelope populations utilize this trans-boundary landscape, and the role that native rangelands play in keeping these populations healthy and connected.
“GPS satellite collars are used to document important habitats and seasonal movement patterns, as well as how antelope may react to various human development and natural features across this region,” he said. “This information is intended to help resource managers work more effectively in their conservation efforts and in partnership with private landowners.”
According to Selden, Kyran Kunkel, a senior fellow with World Wildlife Fund, said that findings to date include round-distance migration of up to 300 miles and animals moving south to the Missouri River and 75 miles north of the Saskatchewan border near Swift Current and halfway between Plentywood and Regina.
Differences in winter severity have yielded significant changes in movement during each year of the study.
As biologists have noted for years, these winter migrations are a matter of how far those southern Canada antelope and pronghorns from the Montana Hi-Line have to go to find habitat where they can survive the winter.