With the status of the Julia Butler Hansen Wildlife Refuge up in the air, and the widespread reports of deer dying in a recent USFWS operation to attempt to relocate them from the refuge to Ridgefield still reverberating throughout the region, there is growing opposition to plans to move deer from Puget Island.
Commissioners were not only concerned about the deer, but about the social and economic impact the move might have on the county.
“It seems like the county gets the short end of the stick,” Commissioner Dan Cothren said. “We have a good population on the island. Why are we taking them to Ridgefield? If there is a low number here, why aren’t we building up the population here? We feel that we as people here that we have ownership of those deer too. They are our heritage, our history. We want to see them thrive.”
“People are coming to the Island to see the deer,” Commissioner Mike Backman pointed out.
“I have a brother,” Puget Island resident Chip Meredith said, “and almost daily we get in our separate vehicles with our ladies and drive around the Island to count deer. I hold the record at 66. I don’t want to lose any of that. Many of the people I know feel the same way.”
Meredith didn’t always feel that way. Convinced that translocation was a healthy practice that could help population in other areas, he volunteered to help USFWS with their last netting.
“As soon as I found out some had perished,” he said, “I changed my whole opinion.”
“Every mortality is a significant loss to us,” Jackie Ferrier, Project Leader for USFWS said. “We’re not okay with any mortality. We strive to do everything we can to not have one. We’re doing this because we believe it benefits the population as a whole.”
Ferrier’s colleague and biologist Paul Meyers said that rates for natural mortality, whether the deer were moved or not remained, at 28 percent. After the last move, it was 10 percent higher than they expected. Both were quick to point out that only one deer actually died during the move and that they were making changes to the process to insure that it didn’t happen again.
“Translocation is similar to hunting,” Meyers said. “There is a percentage of deer that are going to die anyway. If you remove some of those deer it increases the survival of the remaining deer. There is less competition and those deer tend to do better in the following years.”
Ferrier said that she had heard the misgivings but she was also hearing from people who said the deer were impacting their farms, eating their roses or creating safety risks on the roads.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate,” Ferrier said, “that you as commissioners and as residents of the county, appreciate the Columbian white-tailed deer. That’s not usually what we hear. This is a fantastic thing to know.”
“Everyone wants to get something out of this,” Meyers added. “Here is what we are hoping to achieve: We’re hoping to recover the species. We’re hoping at some point these guys would be off the endangered species list.”
More than one person wanted to know how they could stop the intended translocation.
“Why can’t we have a public discussion or town hall meetings?” local resident Roy Simpson asked. “Why does it have to be done in 30 days in an obscure publication? Half the people I talk to don’t even know the deer are being moved. If they did they’d be upset like me.”
Commissioner Blair Brady offered to set up a town hall meeting and Ferrier promised to make an effort to improve communication from her office to the community.
"Communication is a big issue,” Cothren said. “I know you’re short staffed. We’ve got to work with you, you’ve got to work with us. I think if we can do that we can come to some common goals. We take real pride in these animals. We consider them our deer. We want to see them thrive. I can’t argue against some of your science. It seems like a small county gets hit with some of these restrictions. There is resentment.”
“What is the betterment of these deer?” he finished. “We want to see that.”