Quantcast

Study: Natural Gas Development Linked to Wildlife Habitat Loss

Energy

Wildlife Conservation Society

A study by the Wildlife Conservation Society documents that intense development of the two largest natural gas fields in the continental U.S. are driving away some wildlife from their traditional wintering grounds.

Researchers tracking 125 female pronghorn in Wyoming’s vast Jonah and PAPA gas fields using GPS collars discovered an 82 percent decline of habitat classified as “highest quality”—meaning highest probability of use for wintering animals. Widespread natural gas development in these areas, which are part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, has led to a sharp increase in well pads, roads and other associated infrastructure. This in turn is driving pronghorn to the periphery of areas historically classified as crucial winter ranges, the five-year study says.

The study appears in the March, 2012 print edition of the journal Biological Conservation. Authors include Jon Beckmann and Rene Seidler of WCS; Kim Murray of Institute for Systems Biology; and Joel Berger of the University of Montana and WCS.

“In our study we have detected behavioral shifts for pronghorn in response to natural gas field development and infrastructure on federal BLM lands,” said Jon Beckmann of WCS’s North America Program and lead author. “By detecting behavioral changes, it is possible to identify threshold levels of gas field infrastructure development before any significant population declines. Maintaining the integrity of crucial wintering areas is particularly important in harsh winters to avoid diminishing pronghorn numbers.”

WCS has developed recommendations to protect pronghorn on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Some of the recommendations include: baseline data being collected on population sizes and distribution prior to any development occurring. Data would then be used to define crucial winter range and keep development levels lower in key areas. Habitat and population levels should be monitored over time in both the gas fields and in similar control sites where no gas is being developed using scientifically rigorous methods to examine impacts of gas fields. Directional drilling should be used to reduce surface disturbance and limit habitat loss and fragmentation.

Fifty percent of North America’s pronghorn live in Wyoming, which are declining in other parts of the U.S. Herds from throughout the western half of the state winter in the region where the gas fields are located including the herd from Grand Teton National Park that conducts the longest overland migration in the continental U.S. Herds that were attracted to the mesa above the natural gas deposits with windswept flat terrain and subsequent lack of deep snow are now being forced into less desirable areas.

The authors warn that pronghorn can only lose so much winter range before they will begin to decline in population. Mule deer have already declined by more than 50 percent from this region.

Joel Berger, a WCS co-author on the study, said: “Ultimately this is a policy issue for petroleum extraction on U.S. public lands. In several cases science indicates that petroleum developments have had negative impacts on wildlife. We are hopeful that studies like these will inform future energy development on public lands in the West.”

For more information, click here.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Yulia Lisitsa / iStock / Getty Images

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Many people follow the lacto-vegetarian diet for its flexibility and health benefits.

Read More Show Less

By Jared Kaufman

Eating a better diet has been linked with lower levels of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. But unfortunately 821 million people — about 1 in 9 worldwide — face hunger, and roughly 2 billion people worldwide are overweight or obese, according to the U.N. World Health Organization. In addition, food insecurity is associated with even higher health care costs in the U.S., particularly among older people. To help direct worldwide focus toward solving these issues, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals call for the elimination of hunger, food insecurity and undernutrition by 2030.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
Healthline

Made from the freshly sprouted leaves of Triticum aestivum, wheatgrass is known for its nutrient-dense and powerful antioxidant properties.

Read More Show Less

mevans / E+ / Getty Images

The federal agency that manages the Great Barrier Reef issued an unprecedented statement that broke ranks with Australia's conservative government and called for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Guardian.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

A powerful earthquake struck near Athens, Greece and shook the capital city for 15 seconds on Friday, causing people to run into the streets to escape the threat of falling buildings, NBC News reported.

Read More Show Less
U.S. government scientists concluded in a new report that last month was the hottest June on record. Angelo Juan Ramos / Flickr

By Jessica Corbett

As meteorologists warned Thursday that temperatures above 100°F are expected to impact two-thirds of the country this weekend, U.S. government scientists revealed that last month was the hottest June ever recorded — bolstering calls for radical global action on the climate emergency.

Read More Show Less
Rod Waddington / CC BY-SA 2.0

By John R. Platt

For years now conservationists have warned that many of Madagascar's iconic lemur species face the risk of extinction due to rampant deforestation, the illegal pet trade and the emerging market for the primates' meat.

Yes, people eat lemurs, and the reasons they do aren't exactly what we might expect.

Read More Show Less