Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pronghorn Reintroduction - A Future Template for Washington Wildlife?

I listen to KUOW, a Seattle based Pubic Radio station, while I putter about in the morning in the kitchen before heading to work. This morning KUOW had a story on the Yakima Nation's introduction of pronghorns onto the Yakima Indian Reservation. The KUOW story can be read or listened to kuow.org/northwestnews.
Back in early December I posted a write up on pronghorns-in-eastern-washington based on some reading I have done on the pronghorn question of Why are there no pronghorns in Washington State? I was aware of some research on the idea reintroduction by First Nations peoples at the time.

The story by KUOW was similar to the story posted by the Seattle PI in late January in that both stories reference the Lewis and Clark Expedition observing pronghorns. There is some debate about the post 1800 pronghorn observation record with some questions as to the observations of Lewis and Clark. The party recorded seeing pronghorn along the Columbia River near the Dalles, but non were reported along the Snake or the high plains above the Snake and none were reported taken for food. In reading David Douglas' journals there are no references to pronghorn that I recall, but he did claim eating buffalo tongue given to him by a Columbia River tribe in what is now eastern Washington north of Hanford. It appears that by 1800, pronghorn were already rare to nearly non existent in eastern Washington and certainly by 1900 they were gone entirely excepting a failed reintroduction effort for hunting in the early 1900s. However, the archeologic record is clear that pronghorn were present in Washington State for a long time.

The historic record indicates that pronghorn were already in severe decline in eastern Washington even before the arrival of Americans and Europeans due to First Nations peoples acquiring guns, horses combined with somewhat limited habitat in eastern Washington. However, the near extermination of pronghorns elsewhere in the 1800s precluded the possibility of migration of pronghorns back into eastern Washington. Settlement with fence building placed further barriers to pronghorn migration back to eastern Washington. So even though pronghorn populations have recovered to healthy levels elsewhere, the only way to get pronghorns back into eastern Washington was likely transplanting as has been done by the Yakima Nation.

Given some of the reaction by politicians and powerful lobby groups, reintroduction could only have been done by First Nations peoples. The reintroduction of pronghorn by the Yakima nation may be a template for reintroducing or augmenting other wildlife species in Washington State in the future.

I do like Lewis' description of the pronghorn from one journal entry while traversing the high plains "We found the Antelope extreemly shye and watchfull insomuch that we had been unable to get a shot at them; when at rest they generally seelect the most elivated point in the neighbourhood, and as they are watchfull and extreemely quick of sight and their sense of smelling very accute it is almost impossible to approach them within gunshot... they will frequently discover and flee from you at the distance of three miles. I had this day an opportunity of witnessing the agility and the superior fleetness of this anamal which was to me really astonishing... I beheld the rapidity of their flight along the ridge before me it appeared reather the rappid flight of birds than the motion of quadrupeds." —Monday, September 17, 1804. I share Lewis' admiration for pronghorns and look forward to seeing them in the Horse Heaven Hills of southern Washington. Perhaps pronghorns will be able to live in other areas of Washington's landscape if they can get past the barriers our landscape and politics place across their range.

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