Deer and drilling study draws skepticism |

Deer and drilling study draws skepticism

Amanda Holt Miller

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Colorado Division of Wildlife isn’t ready to accept the preliminary results of a study that suggests mule deer are not significantly impacted by natural gas drilling.Kirk Beattie, who owns Beattie Wildlife Consulting, was commissioned by Williams Oil and Gas to conduct a five-year study. Beattie is just now compiling the results from the fourth year of his study.The only trend he’s found so far, using three methods to count deer – including counting droppings and flying over in a helicopter – is that deer seem to be spotted farther away from well pads, but still closer than the laws of averages would suggest, he said. “It’s far, far too early to jump out there and say there are no impacts,” Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said. “The intense oil and gas development just began in the last one to two years. It’s impossible to sit back and say anything with certainty.”The Division of Wildlife has just hired a new sagelands researcher to head up a mule deer study it hopes to conduct in the near future. Hampton also said Beattie’s results are almost in direct contradiction to a Wyoming study, which blamed the natural gas industry for a 46 percent decline in mule deer population in that area.”That Wyoming study is very thorough,” Hampton said.Beattie compared his results to those found by Western EcoSystems Technology and determined that there were two key factors in the discrepancy between the studies’ results. The first was that most of the herd in this area are resident, while the deer in Wyoming are migratory. Migratory deer were found to be more skittish by a California study. Beattie also theorized that there is more brush and cover for deer here than there is in Wyoming.Beattie knew his reported would be viewed with skepticism, he said. “I knew the fur would fly,” Beattie said. “But I just do the research. The results could have been very different and I still would have reported them.”The Western EcoSystems Technology study in Wyoming officially started in 2002, the same year Beattie started his. But Western EcoSystems Technology conducted extensive preliminary research, measuring deer populations in test areas before drilling started.”Taking a snapshot of the last few years doesn’t really work,” Hampton said. “There are too many variables. The weather is a tremendous factor. There’s been a lot of snow in the high country this year. “It certainly wouldn’t be fair to industry to say the wells drove them away,” he said. “And drought – it wouldn’t be fair for industry to say populations are going up because of, or despite wells.”Vail, Colorado

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