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McNair project shows fence modifications enhance pronghorn populations

August 16th, 2013 under Education

By STEVE LANG

News and Publications

ALPINE – Sul Ross State University student Jim Wyche, Midland, spent several months “mending fences” with the Marathon Basin pronghorn population.

Actually, Wyche’s McNair Program project studied how fence line modifications affected the movement of pronghorn – both resident and relocated — between pastures.

The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program is designed to encourage first generation, low-income students and minority undergraduates to consider careers in college teaching as well as prepare for doctoral study. Students who participate in the program are provided with research opportunities and faculty mentors.

Wyche’s project, “Utilization of Fence Modifications by Pronghorn in the Marathon Basin, Texas,” was mentored by Dr. Bonnie Warnock, Sul Ross associate professor of Natural Resource Management. By using trail cameras at 23 different fence crossings, Wyche’s research monitored where pronghorn were most likely to cross.

Fences are a deterrent – sometimes fatal – for pronghorn. Unlike deer, which routinely jump fences, pronghorn resist crossing them at all. Different types of fences can be erected to make crossing easier, and during Wyche’s research, three types were studied: four-strand barbed wire, three-strand barbed wire and net wire.

“There seemed to be more passes in the corners,” Wyche said. “Pronghorn tended to follow the fence to the corners, then crossed under to go to the next pasture.”

Trail camera photos showed up to nine pronghorn going under a fence at one time.

Wyche’s study began on January 31, shortly after the release of pronghorn captured in the Panhandle, and concluded in mid-April. During the previous October, he assisted with the modification of some pasture fences in the Marathon Basin.

The modifications were installation of “goat bars,” stringing the bottom strands of wire through lengths of PVC pipe. Wire was also raised 16-18 inches on 100-yard stretches of fences to provide wider openings and easier access for crossing.

“We found the goat bars weren’t used,” Wyche said. “The pronghorn (based on photographs) would go down to another crossing.”

Wyche noted that raising the fence wires generated considerable activity.

“The resident pronghorn got used to them, and when the (translocated) pronghorn were released in January, they found them with ease.”

Easier access through fences may be one of the reasons for an increased survival rate in the Marathon Basin.

Wyche, who is a senior Natural Resource Management major, hopes to present his research on-campus at the McNair-Tafoya Symposium in October, as well as at the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society in Austin next March.

He also hopes to undertake another McNair project before graduating in August 2014.

“I had fun, and I encourage any student who is interested and eligible to apply for the program,” Wyche said.

“McNair offers a great opportunity for student research, and at this stage of my (academic) career, there would be no chance for this opportunity for research anywhere else than at Sul Ross.”

Named in honor of the astronaut who died in the 1986 space shuttle explosion, the McNair Program was established at Sul Ross in November 2007. It is funded through the Department of Education’s TRIO programs.

For more information, contact Mary Bennett, McNair Program director,  (432) 837-8478 or mbennett@sulross.edu.

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