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DOW questions deer study results

Amanda Holt MillerPost Independent Staff

The Colorado Division of Wildlife isn’t ready to accept the preliminary results of a study, which suggests that mule deer are not significantly impacted by natural gas drilling.Kirk Beattie, who owns Beattie Wildlife Consulting, was commissioned by Williams Oil and Gas to conduct a five-year study. Beattie is just now compiling the results from the fourth year of his study.The only trend he’s found so far, using three methods to count deer – pellet group (droppings) counts, spotlight counts and helicopter counts – is that deer seem to be spotted farther away from well pads, but still closer than the laws of averages would suggest. He also said he has found that well-pad density has no relationship with deer abundance.”It’s far, far too early to jump out there and say there are no impacts,” said DOW spokesman Randy Hampton. “The intense oil and gas development just began in the last one to two years. It’s impossible to sit back and say anything with certainty.”Hampton said he couldn’t comment specifically on Beattie’s study because he hasn’t seen it.”I hope that (the study’s) methodology has undergone peer review,” he said.Beattie said he has sent his study to the regional DOW directors every year for the last three years and has asked for comment from the DOW. He never received a reply.As for peer review, Beattie said he plans to receive quality peer review once the study is completed and published if Williams elects to publish the results.”There’s a difference between e-mailing to say, ‘This is what I found, what do you think?’ and sending the full design of the study. You do peer review up front because you don’t want to spend three years of your life or five years of your life on something only to find out you should have done it on Tuesdays instead of Thursdays. It’s a good way to test the validity of your method.”Although Beattie did not have his study design reviewed, he feels confident that his methodology is solid. “I designed the study myself,” Beattie said. “There was not really much input from the DOW. I probably should have involved the Division of Wildlife more in developing the study, but I was under the gun to get the study on the ground and running.”Hampton said the DOW has just hired a new sage lands researcher to head up a mule deer study it hopes to conduct in the near future.Hampton noted that Beattie’s results are almost in direct contradiction to a Wyoming study, which has credited the natural gas industry with a 46 percent decline in mule deer population in that area.”That Wyoming study is very thorough,” Hampton said.Beattie compared his results to those found by Western EcoSystems Technology (WEST) and determined that there were two key factors in the discrepancy between the studies’ results. The first was that most of the herd in this area are resident, while the deer in Wyoming are migratory. Migratory deer were found to be more skittish by a California study. Beattie also theorized that there is more brush and cover for deer here than there is in Wyoming.Hampton said the herd in western Garfield County is migratory, though much less than it used to be now that the area is more developed with roads, the interstate and housing.The study in Wyoming officially started in 2002, the same year Beattie started his. But WEST conducted extensive preliminary research, measuring deer populations in test areas before drilling started.”Taking a snapshot of the last few years doesn’t really work,” Hampton said. “There are too many variables. The weather is a tremendous factor. There’s been a lot of snow in the high country this year. It certainly wouldn’t be fair to industry to say the wells drove them away. And drought – it wouldn’t be fair for industry to say populations are going up because of, or despite wells.”In the end, Hampton said he hopes to see Beattie’s complete study and see a peer review. Beattie defended his methodology.”I knew the fur would fly,” Beattie said. “But I just do the research. The results could have been very different and I still would have reported them.”


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