Natural Gas Development: A Benefit to Wildlife
District Engineer, PA DEP (retired) Patron Life member, National Rifle Association Member – Pennsylvania Trappers Association Member- Ducks Unlimited
The short term disruptions of natural gas development will provide long term benefit to wildlife in many ways, particularly in the variety of species. Once development is completed and the impacted areas are re-vegetated to stabilize the area and prevent erosion and sedimentation, these areas will provide food, cover, and nutrients to a number of species. A critical key element to the re-vegetation effort is to select seed mixtures that will both stabilize the soil and provide food and cover for wildlife. The selection of the seed mixes should be based on the wildlife that inhabits the area as well as its ability to prevent soil erosion.
It has been my experience in dealing with the reclamation of abandoned mine lands in Pennsylvania for many years that reclaimed and restored areas provide tremendous benefit to wildlife and the same holds true for the natural gas industry. I have walked countless miles of pipelines in Potter, Tioga and other counties in Pennsylvania, and to the vigilant eye, it can be seen how wildlife has responded to these reclaimed areas and how different species utilize these areas. The seeds and cover provided by the grasses and forbs, planted during the reclamation effort, draw rodents and other small animals to use these areas and predators such as fox, coyotes, bobcats, hawks, owls and other raptors follow.
Once the area is stabilized and human activity at the site becomes minimal, the wildlife displaced by the activity will return because, in most cases, they do not move great distances- only enough to where they are comfortable with on-going activity. Many species of wildlife prefer edge areas as compared to large tracts of unbroken timber lands. Natural gas development will provide these edge areas for species such as white-tailed deer, fox, coyote, bobcats, birds and other wildlife. The white-tailed deer is mostly a browsing animal and the young regeneration of woody tree species that will occur along the edges of these openings will provide nutrients necessary for their survival. The deer will also benefit from the grasses and forbs used to restore these areas.
Elk, by nature, are mostly grazing animals and in elk country, restoration of these natural gas areas, especially pipelines, with vegetation preferred by elk will greatly benefit the species.
The grasses and forbs will also be an attraction to insects such as grasshoppers and will become a magnet for turkey broods in the late spring and summer that feed on this high protein food source.
In many instances during natural gas development, streams and wetlands will be impacted. Permitting requirements mandate that such impacts be mitigated. In many instances, the gas developer will be required to provide mitigation of the impacts to a greater aerial extent than originally existed. In these cases, proper mitigation will provide expanded wetlands to the benefit of ducks and all wetland species and increase the ability of the wetland area to retain more storm water, to decrease flooding in the area, and improve water quality. Stream encroachments such as cross-over piping provide travel ways for species such as mink, raccoon, and muskrats.
In addition to the benefits provided to wildlife, these reclaimed areas, if open to the public, may provide recreational opportunities for many outdoor enthusiasts. Wildlife watchers, bird watchers, hikers, snowmobile enthusiasts, hunters, and trappers could utilize these reclaimed areas in pursuit of their hobbies.
It is my belief that short term disruption by the natural gas industry will provide long term benefits to wildlife and possibly to those individuals who pursue life in the great outdoors.