Stop winter drilling and save the Mesa mule deer

Frustrations mount over Mesa mule deer decline in Wyoming

Frustrations mount over Mesa mule deer decline in Wyoming

´╗┐PINEDALE — Mitigation projects might increase feed for wintering mule deer on the Pinedale Anticline, but they may not halt declines in the animals’ population as energy development proceeds, some members of the public here say.

Wildlife advocates, energy industry representatives, governor’s office policy staff, congressional field representatives and concerned citizens crammed into a meeting room at the Bureau of Land Management office in Pinedale on Wednesday to talk about mitigation measures that may be undertaken in response to information indicating the Mesa mule deer population sharing the Pinedale Anticline with natural gas development has experienced substantial decreases.

“Mitigation is a process to offset some impacts, but mitigation is not a tool to reverse an impact once it has taken place,” BLM Pinedale area manager Shane DeForest said.

DeForest said federal officials define mitigation to include: avoid, minimize, rectify, reduce and compensate.

Wednesday’s meeting followed a public meeting hosted by the BLM in October, where the declining deer population was first publicly discussed. BLM officials have since met with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to develop action plans, with much of the effort focused on improving deer habitat.

Game and Fish habitat biologist Dan Stroud said the mule deer population reached a threshold of decline last year that must trigger a mitigation response, according to federal guidelines. The response can include a variety of measures, from protecting flank areas from disturbance to habitat enhancements, either on site or off site.

Daniel resident Rollie Sparrowe asked whether there was any connection between herd population objectives and habitat refurbishment.

He said that with no stated intent or goal to restore the herd, “In the end, the people and the deer are screwed.”

“The elephant in the room is winter drilling,” which agencies are unwilling to discuss, Sparrowe said. Unless that changes, Sparrowe said, the public “can kiss that herd goodbye.”

Game and Fish Deputy Director John Emmerich hopes habitat enhancements will at a minimum “stabilize” the herd and reverse its decline.

DeForest added that mitigation measures are called for to “address undesirable change.”

Citizen Bev Sharpe echoed Sparrowe’s concerns.

“Time is of the essence, and we’re behind. The industry is developing faster than we can keep up. I see no hope for the future,” she said.

Boulder rancher Chris Sullivan said drilling is currently centered on a 6-square-mile area located just a few miles south of the most important mule deer migration concentration area. Operators will soon propose where to shift their concentrated area of development, but it will be to the north, toward the migration route.

“Are we very concerned about that, when they move north?” he said.

Monitoring of collared migratory deer revealed that some of the high-traffic areas for wildlife migration on the Pinedale Anticline are only about a half-mile wide, so directional drilling will be one option examined for such an area, DeForest said.

He noted that the adaptive management process allows the BLM to apply the information coming in to address impacts without hindering the pace of development.