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Oil Shale Development and Wildlife

Colorado's oil shale lands harbor some of the largest mule deer and elk populations in the nation. Commercial scale development could put these herds at risk.

Roan Plateau aerial view The Roan Plateau, in the heart of Colorado's oil shale
and gas country, and is home to large populations of
mule deer, elk and other treasured wildlife.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has concluded that oil shale development would harm wildlife. These negative impacts would occur as: (1) habitat loss, alteration, or fragmentation; (2) disturbance and displacement; (3) increased mortality; and (4) increased pressure from humans through conflicts with structures or vehicles. These impacts, the BLM warns, would likely result from changes in habitat use, behavior, predator populations, as well as exposure to toxic substances produced by energy development.

Wyoming provides a troubling example. Mule deer in the Pinedale Anticline area have declined over 50% after a decade of intense natural gas drilling. Colorado's Piceance Basin is already home to significant natural gas drilling activity. Oil shale development would place an additional burden on an already stressed landscape, adding to the cumulative impacts of a wave of energy development washing across western Colorado.

These deer and elk herds are valued by the local population and by tourists who visit the areas to view wildlife and hunt. Hunting, tourism, and outfitting businesses have helped sustain the local economy through all the many energy booms and busts that have swept across the region.

Maps prepared for the Colorado Wildlife Federation highlight the struggle faced by migratory herds as intensive energy development moves into more and more of the animals' historic range.

Piceance basin oil and gas leases

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This map shows the heart of Colorado's oil shale country and the extent of existing oil and gas leases on public lands (outlined in red), along with existing and potential leases for oil shale research and development (outlined in yellow).

Piceance basin leased lands and deer habitat

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Mule deer winter and summer habitat, as well as migration corridors, are shown on this map. Though much of this area is high plateau, it is hemmed in by steep cliffs and deeply incised by rivers and creeks that sharply limit where and how deer can move through the area.

Piceance basin leased lands and elk habitat

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The range of elk herds in the Piceance Basin is shown on this map. Winter, summer and calving areas are shown in shade of purple and migration routes in grey. Protected calving areas are important for herd survival since pregnant females can spontaneously abort calves if they feel too pressured.