As the oil boom continues in western North Dakota, with the number of wells predicted to rise from the current 7,000 to as many as 35,000 in the next few decades, an effort is under way to study the industry's impact on the state's wildlife populations.
Aaron Robinson, a wildlife biologist with the N.D. Game and Fish Department, said publicly what everyone involved in the state's great outdoors has been thinking since the recent oil boom began.
"There will be substantial reduction in our wildlife populations. I don't think there's anyone who can argue that," Robinson said.
He is right, of course. There's no doubt that the growing oil industry has had severe negative impacts on the state's wildlife and its habitat. Sage grouse, pheasants, deer, ducks, geese and other animals simply don't mix well with trucks, dust, oil rigs and around-the-clock traffic and other activity in areas that used to be dominated by nothing more than the serene sounds of nature.
Researchers will study mule deer populations, sage grouse and other animals to see how they are dealing with the drastic changes in habitat they are experiencing. We know animals in harm's way, but it's difficult to quantify the damage without serious studies, so we're glad the biologists are on the job. But we worry about what they'll find, and if there are solutions that would be agreeable to both outdoor enthusiasts and business interests.
A recent North Dakota State University study reported that hunting and fishing adds $1.4 billion to the state's economy, an impressive number that is a monetary reminder just how important the outdoor world is to this state. Granted, the financial impact of the oil industry will dwarf that number, but preserving the state's outdoor heritage isn't about money. It's about tradition. It's about this state's identity. And it's about our future.
We sincerely hope whatever the biologists discover in their studies is taken seriously by business and outdoor enthusiasts alike. There must be ways to work together in building the state's economy without destroying its heritage.