The Service announced last Thursday its intention to trap and move 35 deer in early 2014 and and another 10-20 at the end of 2014 to, first, the Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge outside Cathlamet and, second, to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. The agency is trying to bolster low populations on the two refuges by taking deer from the Island herd, which, the agency says, is self-sustaining and numbering approximately 150-170 animals (see related story on this page).
Commissioners Blair Brady, Dan Cothren and Mike Backman unanimously voted to send a letter, drafted by Brady, to the Service opposing the proposed translocation.
"Please be advised Wahkiakum County is in strong opposition to this proposed action," the letter said. "This opposition is due to the county's opinion of historical gross mismanagement of the White-tailed Deer population at the Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge as follows . . ."
The letter then listed three issues:
1. When the refuge was created, there were over 250 deer; now there are under 60. Fencing has caused the drowning of approximately 100 deer which couldn't leave the refuge during floods.
2. "A large population were killed by the improper administration of inoculations."
3. "The latest tragedy occurred this year when the refuge relocated half of the remaining population of deer from the JBH Refuge to the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge killing about 20 percent of the relocated deer."
"When local farmers cared for their land, which is now the refuge, the deer and elk prospered. We believe the history of the program as stated above is sufficient to not allow this relocation of a healthy population of deer from Puget Island as we too are preserving the Columbian White-tail Deer with proven better results," the letter concludes.
When asked at the board's Tuesday meeting for specific data to back the comments, Brady said the incidents had occurred over a period of years and the numbers could be found in Service documents such as the draft environmental impact statement.
Commissioners also commented Tuesday that they and other county residents are upset with announcement coming without any indication. The announcment appeared on the Service's website on December 12, the day the 30-day comment period opened.
"It bothers me that there has not been any public outreach," Brady said. "Everyone I've spoken to doesn't know about this. They have a January 12 deadline and want to start relocation on January 14.
"What he says is true," said Commissioner Dan Cothren. Refuge managers should have informed the board, he added.