2/1/2014 2:02:00 PM Agency captures few pronghorn, but every one helps
Jeff Pebworth, wildlife program manager for Game and Fish Region 3, helps Student Conservation Association member Tyler Nelson grab a pronghorn Tuesday near Prescott Valley so it can be vaccinated and tagged.
Courtesy George Andrejko/AG&FD
Game and Fish trying to help Prescott-area pronghorn, too
The Arizona Game and Fish Department manages individual herds with statewide needs in mind.
Creating connectivity between grassland areas is key to the effort, explained Trevor Buhr, habitat program manager in this region.
Unlike other wildlife, pronghorn cannot adapt to developed areas and they won't cross busy highways once such barriers cut through grasslands. The fastest mammal on the continent, they have evolved to see predators from a distance and run.
Plans for the Glassford Hill Road Extension from Prescott Valley to Chino Valley led the Game and Fish Department to collar pronghorn north of Prescott Valley, to learn what route might have less impact on the pronghorn that live in the highly productive grasslands there.
It's good news that wildlife impacts are now part of the local road planning efforts, unlike a decade ago, Buhr said.
A sustainable pronghorn herd needs about 100 square miles of undeveloped grasslands, as well as access to foothills for food, said Richard Ockenfels, who studied Arizona's pronghorn for two decades.
GPS collars show that pronghorn still migrate from the Prescott area to Garland Prairie at least 45 miles away, Buhr said. They used to roam much farther.
Imagine what travelers would do if the interstate between Phoenix and Tucson was cut into 1,000 pieces, Ockenfels said. That's what pronghorn are facing. As their roaming space shrinks, predators have an easier time picking off helpless fawns until no young pronghorn survive. That's what officials believe led to the demise of the Prescott Lakes herd.
Game and Fish has been working on several projects to help the pronghorn in the Prescott area, Buhr said. This region is home to 25-30 percent of Arizona's high quality grasslands and 15-20 percent of its pronghorn, he said.
Game and Fish cooperated with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and other groups to complete a Central Arizona Grasslands Conservation Strategy several years ago.
While they continue to implement the strategy, the partners now are starting to work on a database to help map undeveloped grassland blocks that are left in this region.
They want to get the public more involved in future plans, Buhr said.
Seven pronghorn from the Prescott area are now roaming the grasslands near Elgin in Southeast Arizona.
While the Arizona Game and Fish Department hoped to catch more like 70 pronghorn here to help the struggling herds in Southeast Arizona, officials sounded philosophical after the two-day capture effort Tuesday and Wednesday.
Humans can make their plans but wildlife ultimately determine the outcome, noted Zen Mocarski, information and education officer for the Game and Fish office in this region.
"The bottom line is, there is no guarantee," he said. During the last attempt two years ago, Game and Fish officials weren't able to capture any pronghorn in this area.
Even just seven pronghorn help diversify the genetics of the Elgin herd and expand it, said Mark Hart, Game and Fish information and education officer for the Tucson area. Two of the nine captured pronghorn were lost in the effort, one from a broken neck when it leapt into a capture fence and another when a fellow pronghorn injured it during the ride to Elgin. The rest were released on the Rose Tree Ranch Thursday.
The three ewes and four bucks from the Prescott area join the resident Elgin herd and another 24 pronghorn transplanted from the Cimarron, N.M. area on Jan. 15, for a total herd of about 90 pronghorn.
Teens help out
Game and Fish officials went out of their way to get youngsters involved in the effort.
Tombstone High School FFA students as well as college students with the Student Conservation Association are helping with the capture, release and monitoring.
"It's value added to the project," Hart said. "Hopefully, we have some future wildlife biologists."
The Granite Dells Ranch owners recently decided to allow The Daily Courier to send one reporter to watch the capture effort. Although Game and Fish officials didn't allow a reporter to get close enough to see the pronghorn in the corral, there was ample opportunity to talk to the students.
They spent Monday putting the final touches on the long capture fence and corral, including digging holes for spotters to hide in since the pronghorn are extremely skittish of changes to their landscape.
"You learn different setups (for the trap) and how they react," said Tabytha Friend from the Tombstone FFA.
A few of the kids got scraped up Tuesday when they helped catch and hold the pronghorns for their vaccinations, ear tags and GPS collars, but they clearly didn't mind.
"It was dirty and stinky, but fun," FFA member Austin Parker said.
Student Conservation Association members Tyler Nelson and Ruben Ambriz from the Phoenix area took the work in stride, since they have worked on farms and ranches in the past. Nelson grabbed one of the pronghorns when the animals started jumping around the corral.
"We went for quite a little ride there until somebody helped us," he said.
The SCA students in the Conservation and Resource Management Field Certification Program get valuable experience toward their degrees while getting paid, student Amando Trillo noted.
"I want to work for Game and Fish so bad," Nelson said.
The FFA students have been helping improve the Elgin grasslands, too.
The Southeast Arizona Grasslands Initiative improved more than 15 miles of fence so pronghorn can crawl underneath it, developed 13 perennial waters, conducted a 321-acre burn and removed nearly 4,000 acres of brush between 1990 and 2011, said John Millican of the Arizona Antelope Foundation. The foundation received a $230,000 grant for the work. The efforts also helped other grasslands species such as black-tailed prairie dogs.
The Pima County government has purchased ranches in the area to permanently conserve them, too.
Now the FFA students will monitor the movement of the Prescott pronghorn at their new home, tracking their GPS collars on a computer with the aid of a satellite. They hope to learn more about where the resident herds fawn and sleep, too, member Casey Harris said.
The students will even help conduct an autopsy on the ewe that died en route to Elgin, to help learn how to avoid mortalities in the future.
With travel corridors cut off by development, the pronghorn now have trouble mixing with other herds so they really need the new genetics from the Prescott pronghorn, Harris said.
People they met at their Prescott hotel told the FFA students they supported the capture effort, FFA member Emily Addington related.
"It seemed like they're willing to help our herds," she said.