Energy production and mule deer? That is not something most people think of as going together. However, Western EcoSystems Technology Inc. recently published an interesting study. This new study suggests that energy production and mule deer are more connected than previously thought. The study focused on the Sublette Mule Deer Herd in Wyoming. Members of this deer herd travel between thirty – one hundred miles one way every year. The herd winters in the sagebrush flats of the Green River Basin. Every spring they move north along the Wind River Mountains to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Moreover, the Green River Basin has a history of extensive energy production projects.
Energy Production and Migration Routes
The study looked heavily into how energy projects affect mule deer migration routes. Researchers knew that migration route usage dropped if energy projects took place nearby. However, this new study has found that migration routes are affected much greater by these projects than previously thought. If surface disturbances from energy projects exceeded as little as 3% of the migration route, mule deer all but stopped using the route. Surface disturbances are classified as things like access roads, well-head pads, and equipment staging pads. During the study, WEST found that any development along migration routes hurts the mule deer. Further, it has been found recently that energy project surface disturbances can harm core sage-grouse habitats. Similarly, this study suggests mule deer migration routes are also at risk.
“Land managers have the difficult task of balancing competing land uses and making decisions with imperfect data. Our job is to provide managers and other stakeholders with the information they need to improve their planning and management efforts. This study can help inform decisions related to energy development and mineral leasing in areas that overlap with mule deer migration routes.”
– Hall Sawyer, Biologist of Western EcoSystems Technology Inc.