Mule deer mortality in the northern Great Plains in a landscape altered by oil and natural gas extraction

Brett P. Skelly, Christopher T. Rota, Jesse L. Kolar, Bruce A. Stillings, John W. Edwards, Melissa A. Foster, Ryan M. Williamson, Joshua J. Millspaugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

A worldwide increasing demand for renewable and non-renewable energy resources has been ongoing since the mid-1970s and is projected to increase for the next 2 decades. The effects of oil and natural gas development on wildlife mortality risk may play an important role in mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) population dynamics. We evaluated the potential effects of oil and natural gas development on mortality risk of mule deer in western North Dakota and eastern Montana, USA. We assessed adult and juvenile female mule deer mortality risk with Poisson point process models using 265 deer fitted with global positioning system (GPS) radio-collars that were deployed from 2013–2016. Mortality covariates included proportion of area disturbed by oil and natural gas development, distance to oil and natural gas development, distance to roads, temperature, snow depth, normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), and age of deer. During the study there was no effect of oil and natural gas development or roads on mule deer mortality, though <1% of all deer locations were within 500 m of active drilling rigs. Mule deer mortality was greatest in winter and spring, and positively related to temperature during these seasons. Estimated annual adult survival probability was 0.79 (95% CI = 0.71–0.85). Given the strong influence of season and temperature variables on mortality risk, weather had the strongest influence on mule deer mortality during this study. Although we did not detect an effect of energy development on mule deer mortality, effects on space use resulting from development could influence deer dynamics in the region through displacement and could occur over longer time scales than we evaluated. This study can be used in pre-development planning in a risk assessment framework to minimize effects of development on mule deer.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 3 2024

Keywords

  • cause specific mortality
  • energy development
  • Montana
  • mortality
  • North Dakota
  • Odocoileus hemionus

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