The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Columbian white-tails have been delisted to threatened species


October 27, 2016

Remarkable strides in recovery have been made for the Columbian white-tailed deer in our area. Evidence of this is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s reclassification of the Columbia River distinct population segment of Columbian white-tailed deer from endangered to threatened.

The deer population of the lower Columbian floodplain has experienced significant recovery, increasing from about 400 deer in the early 1970s to almost 1,000 individuals in 2015. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its state and tribal partners have successfully utilized translocation (relocating deer into former range), in concert with habitat restoration and habitat enhancement to ensure continuing stability and security for Columbian white-tailed deer.

The lower Columbia population is unique because it is fragmented into many subpopulations. This patchwork of habitat runs along the Columbia River from the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for Columbian White-tailed Deer (JBHR) near Cathlamet to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge near Vancouver.

In order to downlist the population from endangered to threatened, at least 400 deer must be maintained in at least three viable subpopulations (50 or more deer), two of which must be considered secure (on habitat that is relatively free from adverse human activities and natural phenomena in the foreseeable future). These criteria have been met. Puget Island and Tenasillahe Island on JBHR are both viable and secure. Many other subpopulations are thriving, but they are either viable but not secure (Westport) or secure but not viable (upper estuary islands near Longview).

JBHR's Mainland Unit and Ridgefield NWR are both secure, but the deer populations will need additional monitoring before they are considered viable. In 2014, half of JBHR’s Mainland subpopulation was moved to Ridgefield when the levee began to erode, and now both subpopulations are being closely tracked. Full recovery of the species will be met when there are three viable and secure deer populations.

The Julia Butler Hansen Refuge is home to a large population of Columbian white-tailed deer. Its 6,000 acres of woodlots, swamps, marshes, and pastures provide shelter and food for the animals. The deer feed on a variety of grasses, forbs, and leaves. Woodlots offer both a food supply and security for does and their fawns from natural predators such as coyotes. The fawns can be easily hidden from view in these brushy woodlots.

Over the years the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge has restored meadow habitat and planted several woodlots in various areas that are adjacent to pasture and/or grasslands. This combination provides both cover and food in close proximity in an effort to enhance the chances for the survival of the Columbian white-tailed deer.

Columbian white-tailed deer are unique to southwest Washington and western Oregon. The successes in translocations and management have been invaluable in promoting the recovery of the deer on the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge and throughout its range.

Maybe it is time to take a road trip to the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed deer. The chances are you will see some of these handsome creatures feeding along the roadside in the refuge or in one of the woodlots that have been invaluable to their recovery. Birds abound there as well, so there is something to see no matter what!

Dr. Madeline Kalbach is Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of Calgary. She is also

a volunteer with the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and a board member of Friends of the WNWR.


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