Quantifying spatial habitat loss from hydrocarbon development through assessing habitat selection patterns of mule deer


Extraction of oil and natural gas (hydrocarbons) from shale is increasing rapidly in North America, with documented impacts to native species and ecosystems. With shale oil and gas resources on nearly every continent, this development is set to become a major driver of global land‐use change. It is increasingly critical to quantify spatial habitat loss driven by this development to implement effective mitigation strategies and develop habitat offsets. Habitat selection is a fundamental ecological process, influencing both individual fitness and population‐level distribution on the landscape. Examinations of habitat selection provide a natural means for understanding spatial impacts. We examined the impact of natural gas development on habitat selection patterns of mule deer on their winter range in Colorado. We fit resource selection functions in a Bayesian hierarchical framework, with habitat availability defined using a movement‐based modeling approach. Energy development drove considerable alterations to deer habitat selection patterns, with the most substantial impacts manifested as avoidance of well pads with active drilling to a distance of at least 800 m. Deer displayed more nuanced responses to other infrastructure, avoiding pads with active production and roads to a greater degree during the day than night. In aggregate, these responses equate to alteration of behavior by human development in over 50% of the critical winter range in our study area during the day and over 25% at night. Compared to other regions, the topographic and vegetative diversity in the study area appear to provide refugia that allow deer to behaviorally mediate some of the impacts of development. This study, and the methods we employed, provides a template for quantifying spatial take by industrial activities in natural areas and the results offer guidance for policy makers, mangers, and industry when attempting to mitigate habitat loss due to energy development.

Global Change Biology