PINEDALE — Each year, personnel from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department work as members of the Jonah Interagency and Pinedale Anticline Project Offices.
They conduct wildlife surveys within the gas fields and reference areas outside the fields to measure potential impacts to species such as mule deer, pronghorn, sage grouse, white-tailed prairie dogs and pygmy rabbits from surface disturbances associated with oil and gas development.
Since 2008, WEST, Inc. has been contracted to conduct the annual surveys for pronghorn and mule deer in the Pinedale Anticline via helicopter.
The past two winters, the decision was made to contract with Owhyee Air, LLC to conduct the surveys using infrared technology from an aircraft.
Benefits to using the infrared technology include increased safety, less disturbance to wildlife (flights are conducted at approximately 2,000 feet and it is far less expensive, costing approximately 1/4 of the cost of the traditional helicopter flights).
As part of the record of decision for gas development in the Pinedale Anticline Project Area (PAPA), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) developed a Wildlife Monitoring and Mitigation Matrix (WMMM) that provides direction for wildlife monitoring.
For mule deer, the matrix was intended to identify monitoring parameters that allow changes in mule deer abundance and avoidance of infrastructure to be quantitatively assessed.
The WMMM specifies that mitigation measures will be triggered if a 15% decline in mule deer abundance is detected in any year, or a cumulative change over all years since 2005.
Monitoring results for the winter of 2017-18 indicated that mule deer abundance decreased by 48% in the Mesa and 28% in Sublette herd as a whole since the baseline year. Since 2006, WMMM thresholds have been exceeded three times.