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Study claims: Wyoming mule deer herd impacted by gas and oil development


Mule Deer
Photo credit: Getty Images 

Mule deer, oil, and gas development don’t mix. At least, that’s what researchers recently determined after reviewing telemetry data from 187 deer across a 17-year period in the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming, reports. The study, “Mule Deer and Energy Development – Long-term Trends of Habituation and Abundance,” was published in the journal Global Change Biology and discovered that mule deer population dropped by “36% during the development period, despite aggressive onsite mitigation efforts (e.g. directional drilling and liquid gathering systems) and a 45% reduction in deer harvest.” You can check out the study here

The study was funded by: Bureau of Land Management, Mule Deer Foundation, Pinedale Anticline Project Office, Questar Exploration and Production, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, University of Wyoming and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

While the researchers didn’t make any specific recommendations, the data shows that energy development does take its toll on wildlife, particularly mule deer within the largest gas field in the country.

“Our study reveals some of the trade-offs associated with developing energy resources in critical wildlife habitat, and serves as a reminder that mitigation efforts can reduce but not eliminate impacts,” Hall Sawyer, the paper’s lead author, told “Long-term avoidance reduces the amount of winter range available for animals which, in turn, reduces the number of animals that can be supported on the landscape.”

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The study also discovered that the Sublette mule deer herd that winters on the Pinedale Anticline has declined by nearly 40%, according to The Casper Star Tribune. This is significant because, prior to oil and gas development, the Sublette mule deer herd garnered both national and international interest from trophy hunters around the world and, in the late 90s, this particular herd was massive – with a population in the tens of thousands.

“Twenty years ago we didn’t really have a good idea of what was going to happen, if deer would avoid these areas or it would change anything or not,” Sawyer told The Casper Star Tribune. “As development progressed, it became clear quickly that deer avoided well pads. It also became clear that mule deer numbers began to drop off.”

This study is a first in looking at the long-term impact of oil and gas development on mule deer.


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Erik S. - posted 2 years ago on 07-01-2017 11:07:49 am

Rocky - Its hard to take your comments seriously regarding your experience when you finish it off talking about coyotes being a problem, that is grade A bullsh*t.

Darren R. - posted 2 years ago on 06-30-2017 02:11:41 pm

Sad. One of the longest, most comprehensive, unbiased (funded by the O and G companies themselves) studies on mule deer and development, and the best response you guys can come up with is coyotes and wolves? Read the actual study, every stupid question you guys pose has been addressed.

Lowell . - posted 2 years ago on 06-28-2017 05:53:44 am

Mr. Sawyer did you take into account the game and fish had a doe season most if not all of your study time?? 2 The B.L.M. CLOSED hundreds of miles of prime lion and coyote hunting to vehicle travel giving predators free rain from Jan.1 to May 1 every year add a new predator to the mix WOLVES AND THEY ARE PERTECTED !! I live in this area and have seen the deer carcasses on the highway. In the last year a few miles of high fence and over pass have been built out of hundreds of miles. NOT ENOUGH. This is nothing more than an attack on the oil and gas industry. If your going to do a study at least make it unbiased. a lot more is at work in the loss of our deer population, mismanagement and predators being my first pick.

Rocky O. - posted 2 years ago on 06-27-2017 11:40:49 pm
Yellowstone County

Biggest bunch of b******* that I've read in a long time. The first place the mule deer herds in the west have been in Decline since the early 1990s. I work in the largest oil and gas field in the US Prudhoe Bay Alaska. The field has been here since the early 70s absolutely no impact on my wildlife. You need to look at the coyote and Mountain Lion population. get rid of some coyotes and cats and you'll have more mule deer.