Energy development such as coalbed–methane (CBM) extraction is a major land use with largely unknown consequences for many animal species. Some raptor species may be especially vulnerable to habitat changes due to energy development given their ecological requirements and population trajectories. Using 12,977 observations of 3,074 nests of 12 raptor species across nine years (2003–2011) in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming, USA, we evaluated relationships between raptor nest–site use and CBM development. Our objectives were to determine temporal trends in nest–use rates, and whether nest–site use was related to the proximity of CBM development. Across the study area, nest–use rates varied across species and years in a non–linear fashion. We developed a novel randomization test to assess differences in use between nests at developed and undeveloped sites, while controlling for annual variation in nest–site use. Red–tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia), and long–eared owls (Asio otus) used nests in undeveloped areas more than nests in developed areas (i.e. nests near CBM development). Differences between development groups were equivocal for the remaining nine species; however, we caution that we likely had lower statistical power to detect differences for rarer species. Our findings suggest potential avoidance of nesting in areas near CBM development by some species and reveal that CBM effects may be fairly consistent across distances between 400–2,415 m from wells. Future work should consider habitat preferences and fitness outcomes, and control for other key factors such as local prey availability, raptor densities, and weather.
Raptors, Coalbed methane, Energy development, Nest–site use, Wildlife conservation, Randomization test
Reception date: 24 II 17 | Acceptation date: 28 IX 17 | Publication date: 3 I 18
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