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Feature Photo: Antelope on the move

A buck pronghorn antelope bounds along a rancher’s fence line north of Avon in this file photo. 

Fish, Wildlife and Parks will collar 40 adult pronghorn antelope in the Madison Valley for two years.

The project is being funded, in part, by a $300,000 grant from the Department of the Interior, with additional aid from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The collars will be satellite-linked so wildlife managers can track location and mortality data remotely. After collecting at least two years of data, FWP will delineate seasonal ranges and migratory corridors to improve management of species, inform land use planning decisions and ensure long-term conservation of the population and its seasonal ranges and migratory corridors, according to a news release.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made the announcement Monday.

The funding comes as part of a new order from Zinke to expand big-game hunting and to improve the quality of big-game winter range and migration corridor habitat on public land.

Pronghorn antelope are the fastest hoofed land mammal in North American and represent the only surviving member of its family, according to the release.

The agencies aim to use the grant to better understand the pronghorn antelope’s behaviors and habitat needs to help ensure their populations.

The Madison Valley supports one of the largest wintering populations of pronghorns in southwest Montana with counts of over 2,400, and at least 1,200 of these are seasonal migrants, according to the release. Little is known about their migratory movements and seasonal ranges, the release says. The migratory segment of the pronghorn herd may travel into Yellowstone National Park, the Centennial Valley were Red Rocks Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is located, or into the Henry’s Lake Basin in Idaho.

But without science on the migration movements of this herd, wildlife managers don’t know if pronghorn movement is challenged by fences, highways, or other factors.

Additionally, it remains unclear where the most important stopover areas are for these migrants or where they spend their summer months. Understanding pronghorn seasonal ranges and migratory corridors will allow public land management agencies and private landowners to help protect and improve migratory corridors and seasonal habitats through management decisions and project planning, the release says.

“We asked 11 western states to provide their number one research priority for identifying migration corridors and for Montana, learning more about pronghorn in the Madison was a top issue," said Zinke through the release. “By funding their number one priority, this grant will allow Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to conduct research to understand how pronghorn move and migrate within the Madison Valley. Once we can scientifically establish or better define the migration routes, it will allow us to work in partnership and use the best science and innovation to conserve the important corridors on which game populations rely.”

“Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has a long tradition of conserving critical seasonal habitat necessary to sustain big game species, with nearly 400,000 acres of wildlife management areas and 450,000 acres under conservation easement. In order for wildlife to persevere in the future, we now need to also conserve the migration routes that wildlife use to move between seasonal habitats," Martha Williams, FWP director, said through the release. “(Zinke’s order) renews our focus on this issue and provides Montana with the funding necessary to conduct important research on the Madison Valley pronghorn migration, providing critical information to better manage this population for the benefit of future generations.”

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