BRAD DOKKEN: Pronghorn still far from home
Whether it’s the same critter that spent a few days across the road from Don and Leann Wikert’s place near Thorhult, Minn., last fall is difficult to say for sure, but a pronghorn antelope is still turning heads in northwest Minnesota.
Far from home, the pronghorn — or pronghorns — certainly could have picked a better place to spend the winter than northwest Minnesota, where deep snow and relentlessly frigid temperatures have taken a toll on wildlife.
Western North Dakota, the closest traditional antelope country, certainly would have been more hospitable. But so far, at least, the wayward pronghorn is managing to survive.
The latest report comes from Gregg Knutsen, a biologist at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge northeast of Thief River Falls, who posted a photo of a female pronghorn Sunday on the refuge’s Facebook page. Without getting too specific, Knutsen said he photographed the antelope last weekend within a few miles of the refuge.
“It certainly seemed to be a challenge for it to get around in the deep, crusted snow,” Knutsen said, speculating it’s the same antelope Leann Wikert photographed last October in Beltrami County just north of the Red Lake Indian Reservation.
Despite the antelope’s “broken compass,” it appeared to be in good health.
In a column I wrote in November, I reported pronghorn sightings also had occurred last fall near Warren and Newfolden, Minn., and Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area east of Middle River, Minn.
I was amazed to see the pronghorn still was in the area.
As it turns out, Knutsen wasn’t the only person to see the winter wanderer in recent weeks. John Williams, regional wildlife supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji, said he heard the antelope had been seen Feb. 19 north of Goodridge, Minn.
Gavin Nordby of Grygla, Minn., said he saw the antelope north of Goodridge about that same time. That would put the animal about 35 miles from Thorhult as the crow flies (or, in this case, as the pronghorn prances).
Nordby also speculates the antelope has like-minded company in the area.
“For how many times they’ve been spotted and where they’ve been spotted, I honestly think there’s more than one,” he said. One person last fall swore he’d seen a pronghorn with 4- to 5-inch horns, Nordby said.
“But he didn’t dare tell people because most of the ones that had been spotted were females,” Nordby said.
How this story ends, only time will tell, and perhaps we’ll never know. Here’s hoping the pronghorn survives the winter and continues to turn heads until it finds its bearings and returns to its home on the range.
Winter severity rises
The combination of deep snow and too many days of subzero temperatures continue to drive up the Winter Severity Index in northwest Minnesota.
The index calculates the number of days with at least 15 inches of snow on the ground and temperatures of 0 degrees F or colder. The number can grow by two points a day if both conditions are met.
This winter, they’ve been met all too frequently.
Randy Prachar, manager of Roseau River Wildlife Management Area near the Canadian border, said the index at refuge headquarters was up to 131 as of midweek.
An index higher than 100 is considered the benchmark for a severe winter, and with more than 20 inches of snow still in the woods, Prachar said the index will continue to rise even as temperatures moderate.
For wildlife and humans alike, spring can’t get here fast enough.