How Can Modeling Change in Land Use and Land Cover Help Wildlife?
Southwestern Wyoming contains one of the Nation’s largest oil and natural gas reserves, a significant portion of the remaining intact sagebrush steppe, and some of the largest populations of sagebrush-associated wildlife species in the United States. The recent rate of oil and natural gas development in southwestern Wyoming is unprecedented (12,140 new wells between 2000 and 2012 compared to 9,664 wells over the preceding 100 years), and future development is expected at a similar rate (22,573 wells over the next 20–30 years). The effects of this future development on wildlife populations are important to determining conservation efforts in this sagebrush steppe ecosystem.
USGS ecologists developed an energy footprint model that simulates well, pad, and road patterns for oil and gas extraction options that vary in well types (vertical and directional) and number of wells per pad. Simulation models results were used to quantify physical and wildlife-habitat impacts. The model was applied to assess tradeoffs among 10 conventional and directional-drilling scenarios in a natural gas field in southwestern Wyoming. These simulation efforts address WLCI management needs to refine approaches and models for predicting future scenarios of land-use change and wildlife responses to these changes. Products of this work will help WLCI Local Project Development Teams prioritize habitat projects and provide information to land management agencies on the conservation potential of alternative energy build-out designs.