A Better Path for Pronghorn

The age-old migration of pronghorn antelope in Wyoming, one of the longest migrations of land animals in North America, will be safer for both pronghorns and humans this fall. Two new wildlife overpasses designed to save the pronghorn from deadly interactions with modern traffic have been completed over state highways. They’ll be put to the test as the animals move north to their Yellowstone wintering grounds.

The unique remedy, funded by the Wyoming Department of Transportation, emerged after NFWF supported research in 2009 to identify threats to pronghorn. The analysis determined that the mammals’ habitat and migration had been severely affected by development and natural resource extraction in the region. Already under stress, the pronghorn were being killed and injured as they crossed highways, endangering both the persistence of the herd and human safety.

Jon Beckmann is a field ecologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which conducted the study under the NFWF grant. He says that protecting the herd’s 125-mile migration route from the Grand Tetons to Yellowstone is crucial as their available habitat continues to shrink. “Almost 75 percent of the pronghorns’ long-distance migration routes have been lost,” he said.

Carly Vynne, director of Wildlife and Habitat Conservation for NFWF, recently visited Highway 191 near Trappers Point, Wyoming, where one of the overpasses is located. She reports that biologists will be watching the coming migration closely to gauge how the pronghorns react to the new structures.

Over the last eight years, NFWF has supported a multi-tiered approach to saving the Path of the Pronghorn. After convening initial discussions in 2005 with federal and state agencies, NFWF began a wider examination of the loss of habitat for pronghorn. In 2008 and 2009, it funded extensive modifications to fences on private lands to ease the migration. In 2010, NFWF supported a permanent easement on priority lands surrounding the route, the 2,500-acre Carney Ranch, through the Acres for America program.