Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Lives of Pronghorns

This article in the LA Times yesterday by Deborah Sullivan Brennan, laments the decline of pronghorn antelope herds in California from populations estimated at 500,000 at European contact to something in the range of 5-6,000 today. We all lament that. You should look at her piece, but Brennan says that there are too few open spaces left in the state for them, too many fences, too many cattle on the range that compete with them, and too few animals available to relocate into suitable open habitat. More on those points later.

After that, she contrasts the plight of the California pronghorn with the Rewilding proposal for Pleistocene megafauna we have talked about here so often. To quote Brennan:

"In a recent edition of the journal Nature, a group of scientists propose to introduce African elephants and even cheetahs and lions to American Great Plains. Their plan would create a wide-open landscape of roving megafauna that the journal editor fondly dubs "Pleistocene Park."Meanwhile, pronghorn, once stalked by prehistoric predecessors of these big cats, lapse into obscurity. Perhaps it's more tempting to start fresh with exotic game in America's heartland than to revive the relics of our own natural history. But it belies a theme park sentimentality toward nature..."

I think she goes off the rails here. Steve and I discussed this and as he says:

"Several thoughts.
1) As anyone who has bothered to read Paul Martin would know, pronghorn are part of the solution. What is this theme park bullshit?
2) Journalists are scientifically illiterate and probably don't read much generally.
3) Stop grazing? Well, maybe California is "special". But my friend Lee's ranch, where we hunt, runs cattle (on pretty "desert" range), is amazingly full of antelope, and has kit fox, badger etc. It is hunted for antelope. As are all of Montana and Wyoming, the big antelope habitat states."

I am inclined to agree. I will let Steve's thoughts 1 and 2 stand on their own. As for 3, I live in California and spent five years here in an area immediately adjacent to pronghorn habitat. I have also spent extensive amounts of time (years) in antelope country in Wyoming and Colorado and spent lots of time around the critters. It has always seemed very strange to me driving through wide-open areas of the high desert and San Joaquin Valley why antelope have such a hard time here. It does not appear different to me than areas of Wyoming and Colorado that swarm with antelope - to Steve's point about his friend's ranch.

I will admit I have not spent a great amount of time researching the situation here, but I do not believe the constraints Brennan lists are much worse here than on the High Plains that Steve and I know. As far as her opinion of the Rewilding proposal goes, it is just wrong.

That said, I really would love to see more pronghorn here. I saw a herd last year in the western Antelope Valley where they are supposed to be extinct (near Quail Lake off SR138 for those who know) and it was a thrill.


Matt Mullenix said...

Great post Reid! But I see you sidestepped the issue of whether California was "special." :-)

Reid Farmer said...

Thanks, Matt. Of course California is "special" - we have a washed-up action movie actor as governor!!