Pronghorn are the fastest land mammal in North America, capable of reaching speeds of around 50 mph. The problem for a Utah County herd of the mammals — commonly but incorrectly called antelope — is that the only place to run that fast is packed with traffic.
Utah wildlife officials are attempting to capture and relocate a herd of roughly 80 pronghorn “trapped” in the suburban sprawl of Saratoga Springs.
Pronghorn ran along the west shore of Utah Lake long before people started building homes, schools and convenience stores. Development eventually surrounded some of the animals. The pronghorn adapted to their new neighbors and, with natural predators out of the picture, started to increase in numbers.
“We kind of created a sanctuary where they couldn’t be hunted and they didn’t feel enough pressure to move out,” said Covy Jones, wildlife program manager with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR).
Wildlife biologists have kept an eye on the pronghorn, not typically considered an urban species, and counted as many as 83 this past summer.
Concerns for public safety from wildlife/vehicle collisions — the herd has been found near the busy intersection of Redwood Road and State Highway 73 — and depredation worries from the few remaining farmers in the area led to relocation efforts.
Jones said some concerned farmers called to say “they cringed” every time they drove a tractor by the animals because it usually spooked the herd and sent them running in the direction of the busy roads.
DWR workers recently set up a drop net and then baited the ground underneath, hoping to draw the pronghorn in. They then deployed a remote switch to let the net fall.
Recent warm weather made the job difficult, because melting snow exposed plants germinating early and the pronghorn were feeding in open fields.
The first successful netting on Feb. 5 captured 11 animals. A second effort earlier last week turned up another 17.
The captured pronghorn were transported west and released near Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge.
“Saratoga Springs might seem like the perfect place for them to be, but it really isn’t and it is likely to become less suitable for them in the coming years,” Jones said. “We are moving them to their natural habitat and with wide open space.”
Jones said efforts to capture and relocate the entire herd will continue as conditions allow.