Wildlife groups question deer numbers in BLM plan

Wildlife groups are questioning the Bureau of Land Management’s use of an outdated and highly inflated estimate of mule deer numbers in its proposed amendment of its oil and gas plan for the Meeker-based White River Field Office.

The draft amendment indicates an estimated 106,000 deer are in the White River herd, North America’s largest migratory mule deer herd, which lives in the Piceance Basin area covered by the proposal. However, Colorado Parks and Wildlife said that figure was 43,700 after the 2011 hunting season.

“The current herd is likely already smaller than the level deemed acceptable in the BLM’s preferred development option — about 47,250 deer, or 70 percent of the state’s objective population of 67,500 deer,” the National Wildlife Federation and Colorado Wildlife Federation said this week in a news release.

They say the draft plan should be scrapped partly due to its use of faulty data. The BLM anticipates that under its preferred draft alternative, another 15,000 wells would be drilled where some 2,000 active wells exist today.

BLM spokesman David Boyd said the 106,000 figure comes from a 2006 estimate. Parks and Wildlife has notified the BLM that the numbers have changed, and the new numbers can be incorporated into the final version of the plan amendment, Boyd said.

But he said the goal of the plan is to minimize impacts on deer and other wildlife, regardless of current population numbers, and to keep numbers above identified minimum targets.

The preferred alternative aims to limit wildlife impacts through means such as seasonal timing limitations on operations that would be applied even to existing oil and gas leases, but could be waived if a company agrees to limit the amount of overall acreage it impacts at any one time. The oil and gas industry has questioned the fairness and legality of such retroactive restrictions on existing leases.

Boyd said if deer numbers fall below the BLM’s target — in the case of its preferred alternative, a minimum of at least 70 percent of Parks and Wildlife’s objective — the agency can adjust oil and gas management to try to boost the population. He also noted that deer numbers can be cyclical and the population could rise by the time the new plan is in place.

Parks and Wildlife suspects factors such as winter kill, disease, drought and oil and gas development have contributed to the deer decline. In a letter to the BLM, the agency says it favors another BLM alternative that would allow less drilling. But it says even that one fails to support its management objectives, while the preferred alternative would significantly impact hunting and fishing revenues going to Parks and Wildlife and local economies.


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