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Has oil affected ND mule deer? Foundation to research and offer answer

Mule Deer Foundation representatives want to engage in a study that will determine what influence the oil industry is having on the area's mule deer population.

Marshall Johnson, the Mule Deer Foundation's regional director for North Dakota and Montana, said the foundation is not an enemy of the oil industry. Rather, he and other representatives merely want to make sure oil does not edge mule deer out of the picture.

"We support the industry, but we want ... responsible energy development," Johnson said.

There is a good chance that oil operations around Dickinson have resulted in lower mule deer numbers, Johnson said. That is why he said it is important to initiate a study.

"I'm sure (oil has) played a part," he said. "Whether it be energy development, whether it will be housing development ... you kind of just scrape away (mule deer) habitat."

Johnson also said more mule deer are being hit by vehicles.

An oil boom has brought more traffic to the area, he said, and there are times he has seen up to 16 mule deer carcasses in a ditch.

"The increase in vehicle/deer collisions has been incredible," Johnson said.

Johnson added that the Mule Deer Foundation is only in the "beginning stages" of establishing the study.

Data related to deer deaths will not be collected until official paperwork has been finished.

"The contracts have not been signed," Johnson said.

Bruce Stillings, big game management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said it will be a year before the study will begin, and it could take as long as four to five years to conduct. He does not think oil is the main reason mule deer numbers have dropped, but he still thinks the study is necessary.

"The population is certainly down," he said. "But it's not due to oil development at this time."

Stillings has a hunch that mule deer numbers are down because of harsh winters the area has had over the past three years.

"The mule deer population is down 23 percent from last year and 40 percent from 2007," Stillings said.

Dan Brown, who sometimes hunts mule deer around Dickinson, also thinks weather has affected the mule deer population. But he is still curious to see if oil has played a part.

"I would like to see ... if they would do a study that would somehow indicate if the oil was having an effect on the mule deer," he said.