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Oil and gas development impacts wildlife

Feb 14, 2017

Colorado State University researcher George Wittemyer will talk about the impacts of energy development on wildlife this week.
Credit Courtesy of Aspen Center for Environmental Studies

Energy development in northwest Colorado cuts roads and brings traffic into prime wildlife habitat. Researcher George Wittemyer studies how such development impacts deer populations and will speak about his work as part of the Naturalist Nights environmental speaker series this week.

Wittemyer’s research over the last five years has shown that when drilling operations move in, mule deer avoid those areas.

“There’s incredibly strong behavioral avoidance of the drilling phase,” Wittemyer said. “The thing that is less clear, is what is the demographic repercussions of that behavioral shift.”

The deer are moving away from the well pads, but the numbers and health of mule deer don’t seem to be declining. Wittemyer is working to understand that, and one potential factor is timing. Wittemyer and his colleagues started the study in 2011, after the natural gas industry slowed.

“We’re recording and studying this as the pressures on the landscape and human activity is decreasing,” he said. “In some ways, the human presence and the human pressure has been relaxing across our study.”

Wittemyer also plans to discuss other human impacts, like Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s plan to kill bears and mountain lions in the Piceance Basin to try to boost mule deer numbers.

“It’s been an interesting debate because, actually, what we’re seeing right now is the deer are increasing in that area,” he said.

Wittemyer speaks at 5:30 p.m. at the Third Street Center in Carbondale and Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies at Hallam Lake.

Click here to learn more about past Naturalist Nights speakers.