Deer and antelope in Colorado's northern mountains declining, study warns
Bruce Finley - The Denver Post
This excerpt is from the Denver Post
Deer and antelope populations in Colorado's northern mountain valleys have declined sharply over the past 30 years — pronghorn by as much as 64 percent in some areas, mule deer by up to 36 percent — according to a new National Wildlife Federation study.
Colorado Division of Wildlife officials on Monday confirmed declines in the area from the Medicine Bow range west to Vermillion Bluffs — a target for energy development.
The NWF study concludes that herds across Colorado and southern Wyoming "may not be able to fully recover" unless federal and state agencies initiate larger-scale planning to protect their habitat.
The veteran biologists who did the work relied on data supplied by state game managers and attributed the drop-offs to a combination of factors: drought, invasion of weeds, residential construction and the acceleration of oil and gas drilling that has brought well pads, pipelines and roads.
"What we've learned is that the business-as-usual approach cannot work any longer. We're starting to see some consequences of our actions," said Steve Torbit, NWF's regional director, who beginning this week will run federal research for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Federal land managers' current approach to leasing lands for energy exploration, using project-by-project environmental review, is leading to "losing the herds," Torbit said.
Colorado Oil and Gas Association officials warned against associating correlation with causation. Energy companies have spent millions on "mitigation plans" required by regulators to protect more than 350,000 acres of mule-deer habitat, said David Ludlam, COGA's Western Slope representative.
"Mule deer and natural gas have something in common," he said. "Both are among Colorado's most important and valuable natural resources."