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Sage, Speed, and Steel: The Dynamic Interplay between Sagebrush, Pronghorn, and Natural Gas Development

posted on 17.11.2014, 00:00 by Patrick A. Rodgers, Maggie Bourque
The pronghorn (Antilocapra Americana) has long been an icon of the American West and a major presence in western ecosystems. Its primary home biome, the sagebrush steppe, is host to a gamut of environmental and anthropogenic factors that have significant observable and potential impacts on pronghorn ecology. Among these are vegetation cover and type, food sources and availability, and the abiotic growing presence of energy development. I studied the relationship between pronghorn and sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), the effects and potential impacts of natural gas development in the Upper Green River Basin on this use, and how various policy and management tools can be used to better understand, avoid, and mitigate potential impacts to pronghorn. In parts of this research, mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) were used as reference species for diet, migration, and impact analyses. This study reveals that the diet of pronghorn is variable because of their selective and opportunistic foraging strategies; thus, pronghorn use sagebrush based on the availability of other, more preferable food types. Pronghorn also use sagebrush for movement and parturition based on a selective height of sagebrush, while avoiding the tallest sage stands. Beyond the ecological relationships, natural gas development has the potential to impede migration routes and habitat selection, but the full effects and impacts to pronghorn remain unclear. How this interaction between flora, fauna, and human development will unfold in the future is dependent on knowledge, effective environmental assessment, and sound policy. Therefore, further scientific research on pronghorn, collection of baseline data, use of local knowledge as an impact indicator, better use of statistical analyses, and a number of other reforms to policy –impact analysis in particular –have the potential to minimize impacts to this species of the plains.







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