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In 2011, SCI Foundation partnered with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, investigators from Colorado State University and various members of the Oil and Gas industry for a five-year project investigating the impact Colorado’s oil fields have on the resident mule deer population.
The project monitors populations in the Piceance Basin of northwestern Colorado, home to Colorado’s largest migratory mule deer herd. Energy extraction in this area has the potential to alter or fragment mule deer habitats and change behavioral patterns such as migration. The project seeks to understand how mule deer respond to different types and levels of disturbance, including noise and human presence, over an extended time period.
Mule deer response to noise is being examined using GPS radio collars and on-animal acoustic recording collars. GPS records their movements and the acoustic device measures the intensity of sound. In December 2013, 50 mule deer were captured and fitted with these collars, which are designed to stay on deer for 3 years. Monitoring both movements and sounds will show whether the energy industry is impacting deer behavior.
Preliminary results show that mule deer response to sound varies with landscape features, and that deer are more sensitive to sound during night hours. This finding may lead to regulations on noise primarily in the energy industry, in order to minimize impacts on deer and other wildlife.
This project will also provide information on fawn survival, changes in body condition, and foraging behavior for mule deer. Results will help generate a comprehensive understanding of human disturbances effects on individual deer and the population as a whole. The response of mule deer to extraction activities will be crucial to successfully manage this species in the face of increasing resource development.
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