PINEDALE, WY -- November 29 -- A study funded by Questar Exploration and Production Company and the BLM was made public this month and shows that natural gas development in the Upper Green River Valley of Wyoming is affecting the distribution patterns of wintering mule deer. The study is being conducted by Hall Sawyer, a wildlife biologist with Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc.|
This report shows that energy development is forcing mule deer out of their natural winter range habitat, said hunter and outfitter Tory Taylor of Taylor Outfitters of Dubois, Wyoming.. Forcing mule deer to expend more energy during the winter when theres less available food could have serious consequences for our future hunting opportunities. It is unclear whether mule deer migration corridors and winter ranges will remain for deer after the current gas boom is gone. Twenty years ago, big game winter range was considered sacred ground by wildlife managers; land was left alone and undisturbed during the crucial winter months.
The scientific study, which is to continue through 2007, utilizes GPS radio collars to collect thousands of deer locations and document the potential impacts of energy development on mule deer movements and habitat use. Sawyer has been tracking the movements of mule deer in the Anticline region of the Upper Green since 1998, three years before gas field development began.
Highlights from the 2004 report on the multi-year Sublette mule deer study include:
* Mule deer tend to avoid areas close to well pads and associated access roads.
* Changes in mule deer distribution appeared to be immediate (i.e., Year 1 of Development) and no evidence of acclimation to well pads was observed. Rather, as development progressed, mule deer selected areas farther away.
* Mule deer continue to use the Trappers Point Bottleneck when migrating between summer and winter ranges.
Note: Sawyers full analysis, Sublette Mule Deer Study: 2004 Annual Report, can be found at web address: http://www.west-inc.com/reports/papa_2004_report.pdf . Also, Sawyer will be presenting his findings at the Wildlife Society annual meeting in Dubois, Wyoming on Dec. 2nd. Sawyer can be reached before then at: (307) 755-0401 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Sawyers work is groundbreaking because it represents the first multi-year study examining the effects of natural gas development on mule deer habitat use. Sawyer found that development appears to displace deer to less preferred habitat off their crucial winter range, so what were high-use areas before development became low-use areas as the Anticline gas field developed.
This study shows that energy development is happening too fast without understanding the full impacts, said Ralph Faler a life-long hunter and 5th generation Sublette county resident. The mule deer herd is very important to local residents and hunters like me. So if we are to protect Wyomings heritage and traditions, then energy development here must happen at the right place and right pace. When its gone, its gone for good.
The study reports:
Results to date suggest that winter mule deer habitat selection and distribution patterns have been affected by natural gas development, specifically road networks and well pads. During the first two years of development the mule deer in our sample selected habitats with low to moderate road densities. And, during the first three years of development, mule deer selected habitats away from well pads
. We found no evidence of acclimation behavior. Rather, during three years of study, mule deer in our sample had higher probability of use in areas farther away from well pads as development progressed. (Page 48)
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is in the process of revising its Resource Management Plan for public land it manages in the region studied by Sawyer. This area, in addition to containing key habitat for Wyomings largest mule deer population, contains some of Americas largest free-roaming pronghorn antelope populations and one of the worlds last remaining long-distance big game migrations. It also faces increasing threats from rapid energy development.
In response, local residents and conservation groups have developed a common-sense plan to guide energy development in the Upper Green River Valley and are urging the BLM to adopt it in their upcoming Resource Management Plan revision. Titled the Responsible Energy Development proposal, their plan promotes best management practices and off-limit areas in order to decrease the energy industrys ecological footprint and lessen the potential to displace wildlife. (Go to www.uppergreen.org to view this proposal).
Our Responsible Energy Development Proposal seeks to balance energy development with protecting local air and water quality, while preserving habitat in one of Americas finest wildlife areas, said Linda Baker of the Pinedale based Upper Green River Valley Coalition, The BLM has a responsibility to develop a plan that meets both the needs of industry and those of our community, so that ongoing drilling does not destroy the Wyoming we love: its incredible wildlife, clean air and water, and agricultural tradition.
Bounded by the Wind River, Gros Ventre, and Wyoming Ranges, the Upper Green River Valley harbors some of the continents most spectacular wildlife populations and also holds vast deposits of natural gas. Oil and gas development so thoroughly dominate the region that more than 75 percent of BLMs 1.2 million-acre Pinedale Resource Area is under lease, and the agencys draft management plan, scheduled for release in April, is expected to allow at least 10,000 new wells in the next 10 to15 years -- over three times the number of existing wells.
Note: Photos of the drilling and wildlife in the Upper Green are available, contact Peter Aengst (406-586-1600; email@example.com) or go to the photo gallery on the Upper Green coalition web page at: http://www.uppergreen.org/gallery/photo_map.php
Attached: Background, biography and additional quotes from Sawyer report, Sublette Mule Deer Study: 2004 Annual Report, which can be downloaded at the web site: www.west-inc.com