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Energy Production Impacts on Colorado Deer

Oil and gas production disrupts critical winter deer habitat. Credit: Gary Kramer/Wikimedia Commons.
Oil and gas production disrupts critical winter deer habitat. Credit: Gary Kramer/Wikimedia Commons.
August 24, 2015

DENVER – A new study confirms that oil and gas production in northwest Colorado is disrupting important winter habitat for one of the nation's largest herds of mule deer.

George Wittemyer, a wildlife biologist at Colorado State University and a co-author of the report, says the Piceance Basin is well known to hunters as a deer factory.

The area also is home to one of the world's largest oil shale deposits.

Wittemyer says the study found, on average, extraction activity keeps deer a half mile away from sites.

"In the Piceance system where we were working, it reduced the range available to the deer by between 25 and 50 percent,” he points out. “And so that's quite a substantial reduction of a winter range that we have identified as being critical to their survival."

Wittemyer says deer fatten up in summer, and migrate down from high country when the weather turns. Since they can't access enough food in winter, he says added stress from energy production is a big concern.

A Bureau of Land Management report on Wyoming's Pinedale Anticline drilling area found a 60 percent loss of mule deer population between 2001 and 2009 – oil and gas boom years.

Wittemyer says starting in 2008, scientists used helicopters to round up and tag female deer with GPS collars. They found noisy drilling at night under bright lights – as well as regular post-drilling production – disturbs deer habitat.

Wittemyer says the goal of the report is to help inform extraction strategies that take wildlife into account.

"So it's really critical that as we go about developing our domestic energy sources we do it in the smartest way possible so that we minimize the impacts on the natural systems," he stresses.

Wittemyer notes that the BLM can mitigate impacts by setting limits on winter drilling, reducing habitat barriers such as roads, and by requiring industry to set aside sufficient refuge for wildlife in production areas.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO