Federal wildlife officials announced Oct. 14 that they will downlist the Columbian white-tailed deer from endangered to threatened, marking a major milestone in the 50-year recovery effort to prevent the species from going extinct.
The deer were declared endangered in 1967 due to habitat loss and modification by farming, logging, and commercial and residential development. The deer are found in Wahkiakum, Cowlitz and Clark counties in Washington and Clatsop, Douglas and Columbia counties in Oregon.
The new downlisting applies to the Lower Columbia population. The Douglas County population was removed from the endangered species list in 2003 because it recovered, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency first proposed downlisting the Lower Columbia population last year, and will finalize the decision Thursday.
The Lower Columbia population has doubled to 900 deer since 1967.
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Fish and Wildlife officials credited the recovery to the establishment in 1971 of the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge, which covers more than 6,000 acres along the Columbia River between Cathlamet and Skamokawa. About 90 deer were recently relocated from Julia Butler to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and are expected to survive.
Other local populations of the deer are located on several Columbia River islands, including Puget, Wallace, Cottonwood and Tenasillahee islands. One of the toughest hurdles to overcome in the deer’s recovery was getting viable populations established in at least three protected habitats. A viable population is one large enough to sustain itself without inbreeding.
The Columbian white-tailed deer is the only subspecies of white-tailed deer found west of the Cascades, according to USFWS. It’s one of 16 subspecies of white-tailed deer.
“Anytime you can take a species from the brink of extinction and save its future, then it’s cause for celebration,” USFWS spokesman Brent Lawrence said in a press release. “But this was only a success because of collaborative conservation. It took the combined efforts of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, states of Washington and Oregon, many volunteers and the service working together for many years to turn the tide for this deer.”