• WCS, Grand Teton National Park, and Wyoming Game and Fish Department collaborate in effort to safeguard the longest overland migration in the continental United States
  • Research builds on earlier WCS and Park documentation of the Path of the Pronghorn, Seeks to uncover threats and challenges to long-term viability of Grand Teton pronghorn population

BOZEMAN, MT (September 22, 2010) –The Wildlife Conservation Society, Grand Teton National Park, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department today announced a landmark study that may help ensure the migratory success and survival of North America’s fastest land animal—the pronghorn—in Grand Teton National Park and the southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The study builds upon earlier research completed by WCS, Grand Teton National Park, and other biologists that documented in detail an 80-90 mile (125-150 km) corridor—coined the “Path of the Pronghorn”—along which pronghorn complete the longest overland migration in the continental United States. The new study will evaluate dynamics of this population as well as potential threats and impediments that may be faced by the animals as they travel the path to and from summering areas in Grand Teton National Park and wintering areas in the Upper Green River Valley in Wyoming.

Of particular interest is the southern end of the pronghorn migratory route—and their critical winter range—which occurs on a combination of private and federal lands (Bureau of Land Management). These lands contain one of the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the United States currently under development. Previous studies by WCS have shown that gas field development, migration barriers such as fences, and other human activities and structures occurring on these lands can impact pronghorn behavior and population health.

“Grand Teton National Park’s pronghorn spend half the year outside the boundaries of the national park, and the threats they encounter could influence their long-term viability,” said Grand Teton National Park Senior Wildlife Biologist Steve Cain. “The data collected in this study will provide public and private land managers with information critical for making decisions that enhance conservation of this herd, outside of the park as well as inside.”

Work on the study has already begun. Recently, scientists captured 30 pronghorn in Grand Teton and the adjacent Gros Ventre River drainage and fitted them with GPS-equipped collars. The collars will provide scientists with up to three years of data on pronghorn movement and migration patterns and other key indicators such as survival rates.

Another focus of the study involves the examination of the possible effects of recent re-colonization of southern Grand Teton by wolves as it relates to pronghorn fawn mortality and overall population dynamics. Coyotes have long preyed on pronghorn fawns in the park and are suspected of having an adverse impact on fawn survival. Due to the relationship between wolves and coyotes, and the establishment of wolves within the study area, the situation may demonstrate a favorable opportunity for pronghorn population numbers. The current status of the coyote densities and fawn survival rates are largely unknown.  

“The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem contains unparalleled wildlife resources and we need to understand the important influences on the system to preserve Wyoming’s world class wildlife heritage,” said Tim Fuchs, Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Jackson Regional Supervisor. The status of the pronghorn in western Wyoming may serve as a case study for other parks around the world as conservation scientists and land managers continue to identify the benefits and limitations of parks created with the intention of conserving the wildlife within their boundaries.

“Globally, most national parks are not large enough to protect ecological phenomena such as migration. Demonstrating the ability to maintain this process in the Greater Yellowstone system and in Grand Teton National Park can be a model for other species and parks in similar situations across the planet,” said WCS Scientist Jon Beckmann.

Pronghorn, which are found only in North America, once numbered an estimated 35 million in the early 19th century.  About 700,000 remain today and more than half of those live in Wyoming.

Stephen Sautner: (1-718-220 3682; ssautner@wcs.org
Scott Smith: (1-718-220-3698; ssmith@wcs.org)

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.

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