BLM works to restore migration corridors for pronghorn in southeast New Mexico

Story by Randy Howard, Assistant Field Manager, Pecos District Office. Photo by BLM.

In 1820, Major Stephen Harriman Long was appointed by Congress under President James Monroe to lead an expedition through the American West, exploring areas acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. He and his men observed that pronghorn were abundant near water in the northeastern part of New Mexico. Since that time, most anecdotal evidence suggests that the pronghorn population declined precipitously in the century of settlement that followed Long’s expedition. In 1916, Aldo Leopold, a state biologist in New Mexico, estimated that there were just over 1,700 pronghorn in the state. For the past few years, the BLM New Mexico Pecos District has been working with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) and landowners to re-establish pronghorn populations and their movement corridors.

In recent years, pronghorn populations have dwindled down due to their access being impaired because of netwire fences. To remedy the problem, BLM installed pronghorn passes. A pronghorn pass is a four-strand barbed wire fence, with the bottom wire being smooth and 16-18 inches off the ground, which allows the pronghorn to pass through the fence. This wildlife-friendly fence varies in length from 100 feet to miles. The BLM Pecos District has cooperative agreements with permittees for fence modifications on 47 allotments totaling 1,024,161 acres and has installed 320 pronghorn passes.

Pronghorn utilizing a pronghorn pass that was installed in 2013.
This photo depicts a pronghorn pass that was installed in 2013. Pronghorn are frequently observed utilizing passes where the netwire ends.

Once the pronghorn passes were in place, the BLM was ready to bring pronghorn back to the area. In 2012 and 2013, NMDGF and BLM translocated 150 pronghorn from the UUBAR Ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico to the Macho Habitat Area, northwest of Roswell. Thanks to a new partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s “Pecos Watershed Conservation Initiative,” BLM has been able accelerate efforts to open up historic habitat for existing pronghorn herds. This particular foundation grant program is sponsored and funded through a unique partnership with multiple oil and gas partners active within the Permian Basin, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the BLM.

Multiple ranchers and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish are matching and leveraging BLM and NRCS efforts with the National Fish and Wildlife grants. As a result, over 100 miles of fence have been modified to allow passage of pronghorn into pastures and ranches that were previously blocked off. The modifications have allowed the existing pronghorn populations within the Macho and Indian Basin Habitat Management areas to travel historic corridors following the rain patterns, and utilize forage and cover where it occurs naturally on an annual basis.

BLM partners who have contributed to the efforts include New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, National Fish and Wildlife Federation, New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts, Chaves Soil and Water District, National Wild Turkey Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation, Safari Club International, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and BLM permittees.

Landowners, NGOs, industry and agency personnel are excited about working together and are hopeful that pronghorn populations will expand throughout most of their historic range in southeast New Mexico.