North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists recently completed the 2011 pronghorn population survey, which revealed the statewide population is 30 percent lower than last year. Therefore, the Game and Fish Department is recommending the pronghorn hunting season remain closed in 2011.
Bruce Stillings, big game supervisor in Dickinson, said three severe winters with high adult mortality rates followed by poor fawn production has dropped the statewide population estimate to approximately 4,500 pronghorn. Until last year when the population fell to 6,500 pronghorn, the statewide population had been at or above 10,000 animals since 2003, including two years with more than 15,000.
"Our numbers are declining with few young animals observed due to poor production in 2009 and 2010," Stillings said. "To make matters worse, production this year was the lowest documented since biologists began surveying in the late 1950s."
The aerial survey is flown in late June/early July after young-of-the-year are born and visible. Five airplanes covered more than 11,000 square miles of aerial transects within pronghorn habitat.
Survey results indicate the population in the western Bowman and southern Slope management regions are doing the best, while pronghorn in the northern badlands and northern Slope areas are in the poorest condition. Pronghorn in all management regions are well-below population objectives.
Northern Great Plains pronghorn are susceptible to dramatic population declines due to extreme winter conditions, Stillings said. The last three years have been a worst case scenario for pronghorn in North Dakota, similar to 1977-79 when three consecutive severe winters hit the region, resulting in closed seasons from 1978-1981.
"The last thing pronghorn needed was another severe winter," Stillings said. "A much needed mild winter would increase adult survival and leave females in good condition for fawning."
Biologists will continue to monitor pronghorn numbers in the future, and will reopen the season when the population returns to a level capable of withstanding a harvest.
The 2011 pronghorn season will be closed to both gun and archery hunters. Applicants who have accumulated preference points will maintain their current points.