CATHLAMET — Decades of recovery work have paid off for the Columbian white-tailed deer in our area. Evidence of this is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s reclassification this month of the Columbia River distinct population subspecies of Columbian white-tailed deer from endangered to threatened.
The deer population of the Lower Columbia 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 utilized translocation as a management technique — in concert with habitat restoration and habitat enhancement — to ensure continuing stability and security for the small deer.
There are currently six recognized sub populations of Columbian white-tailed deer: Julia Butler Hansen Refuge’s (JBHR) Mainland Unit, JBHR’s Tenasillahe Island Unit, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Puget Island, Westport/Wallace Island, and Upper Estuary Islands.
In order to downlist the species from endangered to threatened, there must be three viable populations of 50 or more deer with two of these populations also considered secure (being with 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 and Westport/Wallace is considered viable but not secure.
JBHR’s Mainland Unit and Ridgefield NWR are both secure but the deer populations will need additional monitoring before they are considered viable. The population in the Upper Estuary Islands is not considered viable or secure at this time. Full recovery and delisting of the species will be achieved when there are three viable and secure deer populations.
The Julia Butler Hansen Refuge is home to a large population the Columbian white-tailed deer. Its 6,000 acres of woodlots, swamps, marshes, pasture and brushy woodlots provide shelter and food for the animals. The deer feed on “young willow, cottonwood, alder and other deciduous trees in the riparian areas” of the refuge. Woodlots offer security for does and their fawns from their natural predators such as coyotes. The fawns can be easily hidden from view in these brushy woodlots.
Over the years, JBHR has planted several woodlots in various areas that are adjacent to pasture and/or grasslands where there is both cover and food in close proximity in an effort to enhance the chances for survival of the deer.
Columbian white-tailed deer are unique to southwest Washington and western Oregon.
Maybe it is time to take a road trip to the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed deer. 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.