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Mule deer anti-decline?

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Sarah Gilman | Feb 19, 2009 12:05 PM

A few years ago, an industry-funded study indicated that prolific natural gas development on Wyoming's sagebrush-dotted Pinedale Anticline was hammering the massive mule deer herd that forages there in the winter. The herd, some 6,000 strong, had declined 46 percent between 2000 and 2004. A government-commissioned citizen oversight group pushed the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees energy development on federal lands, to act on those findings and rein in drilling. But the agency responded with only a weak proposal for maintaining the herd's "viability."

Now, however, it seems that the deer decline reversed between 2004 and 2007, at least a little bit. The Casper Star Tribune reports:

The study by Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc. concluded that mule deer numbers declined in the Mesa by 30 percent overall during the seven-year research project, which ran from 2000-2007. However, mule deer numbers stabilized and then increased during the final three years of the study. . .

Oil and gas industry officials said the study documents the increasing winter use of the Pinedale Anticline by mule deer over the past three years and reflects the success of the industry's ongoing mitigation efforts in the field.

"Questar is encouraged by this positive trend and believes that recent mitigation such as the installation of a liquids gathering system (LGS) and increased directional drilling have played a positive role," Diana Hoff, general manager of the Pinedale Division for Questar Exploration and Production, Inc., said in a release.

If that's not an argument for more responsible development of natural gas (which has proved possible and viable again and again), I don't know what is. Limiting truck traffic (e.g. collecting waste fluids via a piping system, limiting disturbance and wildlife-truck collisions, as Questar has apparently done) and building fewer wellpads and roads, has obviously not hindered the companies all that much, and it seems to be producing some benefit.>

Of course, responsible gas development also means just saying "enough" at some point, and not allowing more drilling.  (Last year, the BLM went ahead with a plan for the Anticline that will allow some 4,400 new gas wells in the area over the next several years. Should be good for the deer, right?).

As conservationist Linda Baker, of the Upper Green River Valley Coalition points out in the Star-Tribune:
"(The study still) documented a 30 percent decline in mule deer over seven years. ... By any scientific standards, this is hugely significant ... "The health of our wildlife will depend on reducing the number of well pads and wintertime human disturbance in the field, especially because (the study showed) winter drill pads were avoided the most" by mule deer.

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