A five-year Colorado Parks and Wildlife research project is improving techniques to restore wildlife habitat in northwest Colorado’s Piceance Basin after intense energy development.
The Piceance Basin, a 7,100-square-mile area northeast of Grand Junction, is an irreplaceable wildlife area - the largest migratory mule deer herd in the country spends the winter in the basin and a small population of a threatened sage-grouse species lives there year-round. It has become a world-class energy field with thousands of producing natural gas wells and hundreds of new wells drilled each year. Several energy companies funded the $400,000 research project to improve the quality of reclamation work.
Starting in 2008, Danielle Johnston, CPW’s wildlife habitat researcher, tested a variety of techniques through a series of six experiments at 12 sites at varying elevations in the Piceance Basin. The sites simulated conditions around well pads and pipelines, including the wide range of precipitation, soils and other conditions.
At the fenced sites, she tested various combinations of native plant seeds, herbicides, mulch, and soil treatments, including compacting and plowing the ground. Johnston said weeds, especially cheatgrass, were a significant problem at the lower elevation sites, but the herbicide combined with planting over a bumpy surface of mounds and holes - which traps weed seeds - was effective in controlling weeds.
Johnston said the most effective treatments were comparable in cost to the restoration techniques currently being used.
Shell Oil Co., Marathon Oil Corp., Encana Corp., Exxon Corp. and WPX Energy funded the research and WPX has used the findings in reclaiming land after installing pipelines.
For more information about the project, see the habitat page.