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Wyoming Mule Deer Under Fire?

Here We Go Again – Oil & Gas Leases in Western Wyoming’s Legendary Hoback Mule Deer Migration

I believe Albert Einstein is credited with the expression, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Over the course of time we routinely see the same threats descending on our wildlife resources, whether it be urban sprawl, the sale of public lands, irresponsible energy development, etc., yet decade after decade we refuse to learn from lessons previously learned.

Recently the Jackson Hole News & Guide published this article on resurrected threats to the famed mule deer migration route that runs through portions of western Wyoming. This area has long been the target of oil and gas exploration due to the rich mineral resources that exist.

Some of the region’s wildlife can handle the development and should see us taking advantage of the much needed oil and gas below the sagebrush surface, as long as it is done in a responsible manner. Other parts of the region, though, are in a far different category.

At the turn of the century this area saw vast energy development, yet some areas were left alone due to their importance to migrating mule deer and those of us that pursue them in a chunk of Wyoming that is historically significant to mule deer populations. And with additional research recently conducted over a 17-year period, there is no doubt that this new round of potential development would adversely impact an already struggling deer herd.

One thing that drives me nuts about politicians and political parties is that the left wants to protect everything at all costs and stifle the economy, while the right (which is the direction I lean politically) tends to take the rape and pillage standpoint as long as it is good for business. Why can’t there be middle ground on some of these issues? It IS possible to be a hunter-conservationist, while at the same time promoting RESPONSIBLE energy development. This recent news for western Wyoming, however, is the opposite of responsible.

I get fairly opinionated on this topic due to my background on energy committees as a Regional Director and Government Liaison for the Mule Deer Foundation and a biologist for the ND Game & Fish Department, plus I grew up with a great dad that worked in the oil patch during the 80’s boom. I’m not against oil and gas development, but do we have to develop everything that can be developed? Can’t we leave some acreage untouched?

With all this being said, I am just one voice…What say you?


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  1. 100% Agree. Sadly it’s never going to get better.
    Enjoy what we have today because within one more
    generation most of what we enjoy will be gone forever.

  2. Guys will be posting pictures of big bucks milling around oil wells, wind turbines, etc. Now days with social media, any and every one can say anything. What does the data say? Is there any?

  3. Dwight Brunsvold

    The almighty dollar runs everything. Always has, but hopefully will not always, If there is a dollar to be made in fossil fuels, the hell with the environment. Here in Arizona, where I live, the power company is not very supportive of solar or wind power which to me does the least damage to the environment if all energy sources. I lived in Wyoming from 1970 through 1986 and saw some of the damages drilling and coal and uranium mining does to the country. I would not like to go back to some of the country I hunted in then and see what it looks like now. If there is oil, gold or some other mineral they will mine, drill anywhere if they can figure out some way to do it, and the heck with the environment. That is the way it is, especially now, with the administration we now temporarily have. One man, the head of the EPA, now does just what he wants to and the heck with the environment. They drill , mine, etc. right now next to wonderful places like Yellowstone Park, the Grand Canyon and the Badlands and think nothing of it. To heck with the salmon in Bristol Bay. Let’s build a mine there. To heck with the caribou in Alaska, we need more oil. This is what is going on in America. Let’s wake up

  4. Campbell King

    The good old days are gone..All we can hope for is a small portion to be around in a few years..Hunting the rut for mule deer is already down to a lucky draw…It’s happening in Africa also…Some big airlines won’t transport trophies…
    Way it is today and you might slow it but you can’t stop it..

  5. Campbell King

    I should have also said that it can take 6 to 8 years in Colorado in a lot of areas to draw a mule deer tag where they were over the counter just a few years ago….problem boils down to population growth…

  6. We (humans) are at our own demise. Greed and ego will someday leave us wondering what we have to show for it. There is a point of diminishing returns… sadly most of the people exploiting these locations that are crucial to wildlife habitat and survival are so called “hunters” and “conservationists”. Seems hypocritical. I live in Southern Colorado the Mecca of natural gas exploration and have seen the adverse effects it has on wildlife habitat… primarily water resources or lack there of. The wells create water diversion… when water is pumped thousands of feet below the surface to displace gas it doesn’t come back. I can go on and on about this, but the point is if we don’t start truly conserving crucial habitat we will have nothing and probably the only thing we will hunt will be behind a fence.

  7. The research during the natural gas boom on the Pinedale Anticline (large scale gas development began in 2001) revealed a 56% decline in mule deer abundance on the Mesa winter range within the Pinedale Anticline between 2001 and 2010. There is tons of other data related to this gas development project.

    Sure, some deer might not be bothered as much by development but not every deer behaves the same. The ones that avoid areas of gas development that are in prime habitat are SOL and have to settle for inferior habitat, leaving them vulnerable during winter, hard winters especially.

  8. Dwayne Meadows


    It is a hard balance. I really appreciate you writing on this. The Governor and the WGFD are trying to find a balance with two world class resources that both provide a lot to Wyoming. Let’s catch-up soon. As Bob Budd likes to say “lets fight for the radical center”.


  9. I had a 35 year career as a forester, and 40 years as a wildland firefighter (at the same time). I am recently retired. I have been involved in timber management, timber harvest, road building, etc. I hold the middle ground. I am a fiscal and social conservative. I believe in the energy industry. I have lived in very remote (by most standards) areas of my life. I am an elk foundation member. I am a member of backcountry hunters and anglers.
    Today we have abandoned science, and common sense. The almighty dollar has climbed above all else. I Don’t have a gold plated apartment. What is happening all over america is greed, and avarice. Gold worship. We are already energy independent. We are industrially dependent, because of offshore tax breaks. Solar is a break even with coal at this time. Arid sunny areas are easily independent with more solar development. With real national drive toward solar, oil and coal will become less important. Billionaires have no interest in this. They are to heavily invested in oil and coal. They write our legislation. Legislators rubber stamp it. Term limits and campaign finance reform are the only way to stop this downward spiral. May god protect our republic.

  10. That’s correct leave it in the ground.
    It’s like having money in the bank.
    Bristol Bay fighting the Pebble Mine.

  11. Kevin Gillispie

    It’s the same in Washington state because of lack of logging blacktails population is down because of environmentalist

  12. The middle of the road would be better in almost every political situation. The migration issue can not be solved by middle of the road. Range is scientifically studied. We know what the natural world needs.

  13. Kris Thomassian

    Perfectly said. My sentiments exactly!

  14. Same thing happened in Colorado in the early 70’s………gas leases……we used to pay a rancher for access just to get into the BLM behind his property , 3 days in was average by Jeep……..came back in 72 and it looked like a freeway had been cut in……..now what took 3 days was only 4 hours……seen an old dude hunting that was in there in his Coupe de ville? Never went back!

  15. You are so right. I think that most responsible hunters are in the middle ground area – as probably most of the population of the US. Why can’t we be the conservationist that our Lord ask us to be rather than swing heavy to the left or right. It’s common sense – but there’s a big lack of that lately. I’ve hunted Wyoming and I want my grandchildren to be able to hunt it as well. Do what’s right for the herd.

  16. Well said. This and other wildlife/public lands issues tend to be painted in black and white when its really the nuance that matters most. The choice shouldn’t be “drill baby drill” or “keep it in the ground.” It’s about responsible siting and development. The land use plan for this region is under revision and it doesn’t make sense to lease more of the corridor till it’s finalized. And Interior and others are trying to figure out the appropriate policies of leasing important wildlife habitat. Let’s make sure we take the time and do it right so we don’t end up with another mule deer decline and loss of hunting opportunity.

  17. David Fontaine

    I feel like there is a component missing in this conversation. CONSERVATION, We need as a society to ween ourselves off what I call, ‘the more the better’. Our use of energy is completely out of control. It would ‘in my opinion’ do us good to go without. I’m talking everything, energy, food, development, money, etc,. That said, we do need these things and should have them just not MORE,MORE,MORE. As is stated the ‘little green piece of paper’ rules all and serves only to pacify our ego’s.

  18. I’m all for responsible energy exploration, but yes, there are some areas that we should probably leave alone. Maybe more advances in directional boring will solve some of these issues in the future.

  19. michael harrison

    The Ol’ ‘Learned Hand Calculus’ states: does the gravity and likelihood of harm, justify the utility and necessity of the conduct? In a lot of way the Hunter-Conservationist movement is uniquely positioned to become the fulcrum for saving ‘Wild Places and Wild Things.’

    And in that regard the Mule Deer is the new ‘canary in the mine,’ particularly for the species in Western Wyoming. There’s become this sort of ‘dumbell’ morphology that permeates throughout wildlife conservation, one that mimics the oppositional politics and continuing polemics of the body politic, a set of polemics not necessarily driven by stakeholders, but rather, large economic interests. Too often those ‘economic interests—interests which derive from too little direct experience and, too much indirect control—operate at a great remove from the locales who suffer the consequences of that perspective. This poses not only an existential threat to the mule deer, but one to a cultural tradition that for far too long has been defined by its detractors.

    In the argument leading to our separation from a despotic King, John Adams lamented ‘the middle way is no way at all.’ Once again, we are at the proverbial ‘fork in the road,’ one where the politics and science have to become one to save ‘wild places and wild things’ as part of a cultural tradition

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