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The environment desk at Aspen Public Radio covers issues in the Roaring Fork Valley and throughout the state of Colorado including water use and quality, impact of recreation, population growth and oil and gas development. APR’s Environment Reporter is Elizabeth Stewart-Severy.

Oil and gas development impacts wildlife

Courtesy of Aspen Center for Environmental Studies

Energy development in northwest Colorado cuts roads and brings traffic into prime wildlife habitat. Researcher George Wittemyer studies how such development impacts deer populations and will speak about his work as part of the Naturalist Nights environmental speaker series this week.

Wittemyer’s research over the last five years has shown that when drilling operations move in, mule deer avoid those areas.

“There’s incredibly strong behavioral avoidance of the drilling phase,” Wittemyer said. “The thing that is less clear, is what is the demographic repercussions of that behavioral shift.”

The deer are moving away from the well pads, but the numbers and health of mule deer don’t seem to be declining. Wittemyer is working to understand that, and one potential factor is timing. Wittemyer and his colleagues started the study in 2011, after the natural gas industry slowed.

“We’re recording and studying this as the pressures on the landscape and human activity is decreasing,” he said. “In some ways, the human presence and the human pressure has been relaxing across our study.”

Wittemyer also plans to discuss other human impacts, like Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s plan to kill bears and mountain lions in the Piceance Basin to try to boost mule deer numbers.

“It’s been an interesting debate because, actually, what we’re seeing right now is the deer are increasing in that area,” he said.

Wittemyer speaks at 5:30 p.m. at the Third Street Center in Carbondale and Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies at Hallam Lake.

Click hereto learn more about past Naturalist Nights speakers.

Aspen native Elizabeth Stewart-Severy is excited to be making a return to both the Red Brick, where she attended kindergarten, and the field of journalism. She has spent her entire life playing in the mountains and rivers around Aspen, and is thrilled to be reporting about all things environmental in this special place. She attended the University of Colorado with a Boettcher Scholarship, and graduated as the top student from the School of Journalism in 2006. Her lifelong love of hockey lead to a stint working for the Colorado Avalanche, and she still plays in local leagues and coaches the Aspen Junior Hockey U-19 girls.
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