Effects of oil and gas development on grassland birds
Recent growth in oil extraction activity in western North Dakota is driving rapid habitat loss and fragmentation. Western North Dakota contains extensive breeding habitat for numerous grassland bird species, many of which are suffering continent-wide population declines and are of conservation concern. The goal of our project is to provide information to land managers regarding the potential impact of oil development on grassland birds, and also to project the landscape-scale impact of future oil development scenarios.
We are conducting avian surveys to examine patterns of bird distribution in relation to oil wells and roads. To date, results suggest that tolerance to oil development varies by species. Several species demonstrate little aversion to roads or well pads, but others avoid habitat within 250 m or more of well pads. Currently there are more than 6,000 oil wells in North Dakota and predictions are that 40,000 more will be drilled in the next 10 years. For our study sites, an average well pad measured 2.3 ha; the inclusion of a 250-m buffer increased the impacted area to 36 ha (or 15 times the footprint of the well pad alone). Understanding these indirect impacts on habitat use will allow us to more accurately predict the consequences of oil development and to project environmental effects under a variety of future scenarios.
Douglas H Johnson