The remnants of a pronghorn herd used as a nursery for bolstering antelope populations in Oregon and Nevada are now transplants themselves, ending a 44-year-long stay at the Umatilla Chemical Depot in Hermiston.
The final 37 pronghorn at the abandoned depot were herded Tuesday into a trap and captured, then relocated to Malheur County, closing the books on the long-running nursery operation at the fenced-in, 19,000-acre depot.
Since 1969, pronghorn on the depot lands have been used to re-establish antelope populations throughout Oregon and in Nevada. In Eastern Oregon, populations are now strong enough to host several controlled hunts. The population on the depot peaked at more than 350 animals in 1986.
The original 1962 agreement between depot officials and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife called for the pronghorn to be removed if the depot ever shut down, according to ODFW. Nearby agricultural and industrial lands wouldn't support pronghorn once the fencing was removed and the animals were allowed to leave, prompting Tuesday's relocation effort.
Pronghorn are the fastest ungulates in North America and can reach speeds of up to 40 mph, so ODFW biologists needed a helicopter to herd them into a trap.
Once captured, the animals had their blood sampled, were vaccinated and fitted with ear tags before their release on public lands within the Beulah Wildlife Management District, ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy says.
Thirty-eight animals were captured, with one old pronghorn euthanized because it was in poor condition, she says. The remainder were trucked to the release site, she says.
The depot was designed to destroy chemical weapons stored at the facility. The depot destroyed 22,604 chemical munitions between October 2004 and the fall of 2011. Demolition of the facility is expected to be complete in 2014.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.