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Published July 16, 2013, 08:51 AM

No pronghorn hunting season in North Dakota again this year

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's pronghorn population is growing again after five years of steady decline, but there will not be a hunting season for a fifth straight year.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's pronghorn population is growing again after five years of steady decline, but there will not be a hunting season for a fifth straight year.

Pronghorn numbers are still below population objectives and not high enough to warrant a hunting season for the horned animals commonly referred to as antelope, the state Game and Fish Department said. Hunting will be closed to both gun and bow hunters.

An aerial survey in late June and early July that covered 11,000 square miles indicated there are about 5,400 pronghorn in North Dakota — 49 percent higher than last year but still 62 percent below numbers in 2008 when hunting was last permitted. After that, three consecutive severe winters with high adult death rates and poor fawn production left an aging population with few prime-age breeding females.

"We expected to see a population increase (this year) due to another year without a hunting season and a mild winter across much of our pronghorn range, which led to high adult and fawn survival," said Bruce Stillings, big game supervisor for the Game and Fish Department.

Another mild winter this year should encourage more population growth, but it is uncertain when another hunting season will be held, he said.

"Fragmentation of habitat due to energy development and loss of Conservation Reserve Program acres in the secondary range are challenges facing future pronghorn recovery in the state," Stillings said.

The federal government pays landowners to idle environmentally sensitive land through the Conservation Reservation Program, but many farmers with expiring CRP contracts are turning the land over to crops due to high market prices.

North Dakota has experienced steep declines in its pronghorn population before. Three straight harsh winters in the late 1970s led wildlife officials to close hunting for four years, from 1978-81.

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