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Harsh winter devastates Montana’s pronghorn antelope population

June 11, 2011HELENA, Montana (Reuters) – A harsh winter has stranded more than 2,500 pronghorn antelope at Montana’s Fort Peck Reservoir and nearly all are expected to die this summer, wildlife managers said. Big game animals in many parts of the West are recovering from an unusually cold winter that killed many and left several hundred frozen antelope carcasses in open fields. Pronghorn antelope have been hit hard in eastern and northeastern Montana, where wildlife managers have said this season’s die-off looks to be the worst in 30-plus years. There are an estimated 300,000 pronghorn antelope in Montana and already thousands have died across the state. Biologists will not know exactly how devastating the winter season was for the animals until the state’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks agency does its population estimate in July. But the dire situation facing the antelope at Fort Peck Reservoir in remote northeastern Montana is an indication of the extreme weather the animals have endured this year. The stranded antelope, which number between 2,500 and 3,000, are on the south side of the reservoir, after crossing the frozen Missouri River to get there. The animals do not usually venture that far south, but they did this year in search of scarce food for grazing, said state biologists. Now, they cannot leave the area, because they are caught between steep cliffs and a vast expanse of water. “There’s bunches of antelope on the shoreline kind of wandering back and forth, maybe trying to swim a little bit then coming back — because it’s well over a mile across the reservoir,” said Mark Sullivan, a biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. World Wildlife Fund program manager Dennis Jorgensen has been monitoring the situation at Fort Peck Reservoir. -WTAQ

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