Study Finds Deer Don't Migrate Through Disturbed Areas

Jun 17, 2020

A mule deer in southwest Wyoming.
Credit Tom Koerner/USFWS

Researchers from Western Ecosystems Technology and the University of Wyoming have found how much land development a deer can actually handle in a recent study.

By studying the GPS locations of mule deer from close to 20 years of data, Western Ecosystems Technology's research biologist Hall Sawyer and his UW team were able to track deer migration patterns. The team also used remote sensing, or collections of satellite images, to see how much land was being used for natural gas wells in the deer's migration corridors.

The team found energy development that takes up more than three percent of the land causes deer to avoid that area when they migrate. Sawyer said researchers have always known development disturbs migration but haven't been able to put a number on it until now.

"This work will help managers make those tough decisions when they need to balance competing land uses like energy development and wildlife," said Sawyer. "And recognize that, boy, once disturbance exceeds three percent, mule deer are a lot less likely to migrate."

Sawyer said although this study only investigates mule deer, members of his team are exploring the migration trends of other animals.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.