Mule Deer Population Halved in Pinedale Anticline over 9 Years Due to Gas Well Drilling

It doesn't take a modern Nostradamus to predict that when you ignore the concerns of local conservationists, doze in miles of new roads and drill hundreds of gas wells, year-round, in winter range in Wyoming, you are going to lose a lot of your deer herd. But a new study on the Pinedale Anticline shows the loss of about half the mule deer that winter there, over the course of the past 9 years. Gee, who would have thought?

And rather than fueling outrage, raising a hue and cry among sportsmen, the study seems to have been mostly forgotten in the news cycle. Here's the New York Times story, which mentions the lawsuit brought by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

The headline states that the mule deer declines warrant "serious" mitigation efforts. Interesting, isn't it, how we have moved from protecting our wildlife resources and our public lands, balancing energy or other development with wildlife concerns, to "mitigating" the losses? Even though nobody has defined what mitigating the loss of a mule deer herd would actually look like?

From the beginning, way back in 2002, it was recognized that industry would rather go full steam ahead, let the losses to grazing, weed control, antelope, mule deer, whatever resource mount and then claim the losses could be "mitigated" somehow. Of course they could. We could decide to feed all of our migratory big game herds on pellets, as they have in the Jackson Hole Elk Refuge (which is also known as perhaps the greatest wildlife disease event risk in the US) and just let energy development proceed with nary a care for the repercussions--which is pretty much how it is being permitted right now.

High Country News reports on a new industry push into the Fortification, a 100,000-acre area of northern Wyoming, which is home to an utterly unique desert elk herd that produces monster bulls providing one of America's most challenging and fascinating hunting opportunities, in one of the wildest regions of the Powder River Basin. Here is the Casper Star Tribune's report on the proposed development, which notes that the elk herd is declining as it is pushed by the development already underway.

And, in the most recent news from the Roan Plateau, Colorado, negotiations by Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups with the Bill Barrett Corporation to try and protect a small part of the plateau from development have collapsed. The Denver Post has that story.

Trout Unlimited and nine other conservation groups had filed a lawsuit saying the federal Bureau of Land Management failed to study the impacts of such wide-scale development (as many as 3,000 gas wells, with associated roads and wellpads) on the wildlife, water, and recreational values of the Roan. The lawsuit will now proceed.

Americans have become convinced that natural gas is the energy of the future, replacing polluting coal and other fossil fuels. I agree wholeheartedly. But what is being hidden in these giant pro-gas ad campaigns is the cold fact that the regulations regarding the extraction of this energy of the future are absurdly inadequate.

Our public lands and our public wildlife and our waters are being taken from us. We could have the gas, the profits could be made, the public lands and wildlife could be protected. But that is not what is happening now.

--Hal Herring