Conversion of native winter range into producing gas fields can affect the habitat selection and distribution patterns of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). Understanding how levels of human activity influence mule deer is necessary to evaluate mitigation measures and reduce indirect habitat loss to mule deer on winter ranges with natural gas development. We examined how 3 types of well pads with varying levels of vehicle traffic influenced mule deer habitat selection in western Wyoming during the winters of 2005–2006 and 2006–2007. Well pad types included producing wells without a liquids gathering system (LGS), producing wells with a LGS, and well pads with active directional drilling. We used 36,699 Global Positioning System locations collected from a sample (n = 31) of adult (>1.5-yr-old) female mule deer to model probability of use as a function of traffic level and other habitat covariates. We treated each deer as the experimental unit and developed a population-level resource selection function for each winter by averaging coefficients among models for individual deer. Model coefficients and predictive maps for both winters suggested that mule deer avoided all types of well pads and selected areas further from well pads with high levels of traffic. Accordingly, impacts to mule deer could probably be reduced through technology and planning that minimizes the number of well pads and amount of human activity associated with them. Our results suggested that indirect habitat loss may be reduced by approximately 38–63% when condensate and produced water are collected in LGS pipelines rather than stored at well pads and removed via tanker trucks. The LGS seemed to reduce long-term (i.e., production phase) indirect habitat loss to wintering mule deer, whereas drilling in crucial winter range created a short-term (i.e., drilling phase) increase in deer disturbance and indirect habitat loss. Recognizing how mule deer respond to different types of well pads and traffic regimes may improve the ability of agencies and industry to estimate cumulative effects and quantify indirect habitat losses associated with different development scenarios.
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Vol. 73 • No. 7