Energy firm praised for funding wildlife research

Energy companies have not only implemented techniques in Western Colorado to reduce the effects of their exploration and production operations on mule deer, but also funded research that bolstered those efforts.

“The public needs to recognize that much of what we know was made possible through research generously funded by energy companies,” said Ron Velarde, manager of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northwest Region.

“This is very important because, just like in other areas of Colorado and the country, energy exploration within important wildlife habitat will likely continue for many years,” Velarde said.

Energy companies funded research conducted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado State University on the effects of energy development on mule deer in the Piceance Basin in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties in Western Colorado.

The research concluded energy development over the past decade has fragmented deer habitat in some portions of the basin and led to changes in deer movement and mitigation patterns.

The research also found, though, that mitigation techniques recommended by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and implemented by energy companies have worked in reducing effects on deer. Those techniques have included placing numerous wells on one pad rather than spreading them over a larger area, providing strategically placed wildlife seclusion areas and creating buffer zones using existing topography and vegetation.

“Without the funds for this research, it could have taken many more years before we found effective mitigation,” Velarde said.

The outreach culminated in the development of the Colorado West Slope Mule Deer Strategy, a plan consisting of seven components specifically aimed at addressing shrinking deer populations. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission approved the strategy in December, and the department recently approved an initial outlay of $500,000 for wildlife managers to begin implementing portions of the plan.

The statewide mule deer population has dropped to about 400,000 from an objective of 600,000, a decline attributed to increasing human population, increasing outdoor recreation in critical winter range, predation, impacts from severe winters or drought, high traffic volume, disease and habitat degradation.

While corporations are blamed for the effects of their operations on ecosystems, Velarde said it’s important to recognize when those same corporations offer help and find solutions.

“Mule deer and other wildlife are facing challenges from several sources,” Velarde said. “People need to start thinking about how their own activities affect wildlife and what they can do to help. Just pointing fingers at the energy industry is not a helpful solution to this difficult issue.”