Wyoming’s pronghorn populations have been declining rapidly in the last ten years and a coalition of groups including the University of Wyoming and Game and Fish are trying to figure out why. In 2010, there were over 500,000 pronghorn in the state. Today, that number has dropped to a little more than 400,000.
Jeff Beck is an associate professor of Ecosystems Science and Management at UW. Last November, he and a team of scientists took to the field to figure out why. They helicopter-netted 130 pronghorns in three test areas of the Red Desert.
“Some of the things we collected, information we collected from the animals,” Beck says, “was we weighed them to see how much mass they had, we collected fecal samples. The fecal sample is useful for evaluating a stress hormone to see if each one of the populations may be undergoing a different level of stress.”
Two of the test areas are in oil and gas country while the third--a control area--is not. Beck says the study, which is funded in part by the energy industry, may help determine whether the decline is a natural fluctuation, or caused by energy development encroaching on pronghorn habitat.