Opening the Range

ACA’s ongoing pronghorn projects focus on one of the most specialized mammals in the grasslands. It’s a mammal unlike any other…and with that comes its own unique problem.

Pronghorn are long-distance sprinters, hitting speeds up to 95 km/h. That makes it the fastest land animal in North America! Because it evolved on the wide-open plains, pronghorn developed a need for speed—but alas, no ability to jump.

They have been migrating across North America since there was a continent to migrate across. It’s the last hundred years that have brought miles of barbed-wire fencing, impeding essential travel routes across their range (which includes Alberta, Montana and Saskatchewan).

Unable to jump fences, pronghorn are forced to attempt crawling under the lowest barbed wire—usually a mere 30 centimetres off the ground. The barbs rip their hair and skin, leaving them exposed to Alberta’s ruthless winter. Sometimes they get caught up in the wires, leaving them defenseless against predators or dying from exhaustion.

AFGA, ACA and other groups (including ones across borders) have been chipping away at pronghorn challenges for years, installing wildlife-friendlier fencing, as well taking on other initiatives to help the grasslands ecosystem that the mammals rely on. Plans continue, until at the very least pronghorn can travel unimpeded once again.

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When deciding what fencing enhancements will benefit pronghorn, we also need to consider all the other grassland species. So far, ACA has tested three modifications and we plan to continue trying new ideas to build upon our previous results for evidence-based wildlife-friendly fencing. Discussions with landowners are an important part of the process. For any modification to be successful, landowners have to be comfortable that any modification they implement will still contain their livestock while allowing passage by pronghorn.

Partners

  • Bushnell
  • Cabela’s Canada
  • Canadian Forces Base Suffield
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • Safari Club International – Northern Alberta Chapter (Hunting Heritage Fund)
  • TD Friends of the Environment Foundation
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • University of Montana

For the last eight years, ACA has assisted Alberta Fish & Game Association with modifying fences to pronghorn standards. Our involvement in the project includes manpower and a grant through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. So far, 350 km of fencing within the grasslands of southern Alberta has been retrofitted. The modification affects the bottom wire on a barbed wire fence, raising it from 30 to 45 centimetres and replacing it with a smooth wire.

Partners

  • Alberta Fish and Game Association
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

In year two of three, this project deals with the Pronghorn Xing project. Pronghorn Xing is a citizen science program developed by Miistakis Institute—in partnership with Alberta Conservation Association, Alberta Environment and Parks, Alberta Transportation, Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, and Saskatchewan Government Insurance—to learn where the pronghorn are crossing the highway. Information on wildlife sightings are gathered through a website mapping tool or a free smartphone app and will lead to the development of tools to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.

Partners

  • Miistakis Institute
  • Alberta Transportation
  • Alberta Environment and Parks
  • Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment
  • Saskatchewan Government Insurance

In its second of two years, the Pronghorn as a Grassland Indicator Project focuses on assessing if pronghorn are a suitable candidate species to represent grassland wildlife in conservation planning. In partnership with the University of Montana, The Nature Conservancy, and Sage Grouse Initiative, and supported by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we will finalize our analysis and manuscripts assessing the overlap in use of habitat for a suite of grassland obligates.

Partners

  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Sage Grouse Initiative
  • University of Montana