Moving Deer Out of Danger
With a dike in danger of collapsing, the endangered Columbian white-tailed deer on the refuge that bears its name faces the risk that comes with flooding. Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed Deer in Washington is taking action.
Up to 50 deer are being carefully and painstakingly moved from Julia Butler Hansen Refuge to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, about 60 miles southeast along the Columbia River. Ridgefield Refuge is within the deer’s historic range. So far, 35 deer have been moved with “lots of techniques, lots of volunteers and lots of partners,” says Jackie Ferrier, project leader at Willapa National Refuge Complex (which includes Hansen Refuge), “including the Cowlitz Tribe for whom this deer is culturally significant.”
In some cases, volunteers move in a line toward the deer with large nets. In most cases, an area is baited with apples and pears and when a deer arrives a net is dropped over them. On one occasion, a helicopter was used to drive the deer toward the nets, which are fired from a gun and dropped over the deer. Sedated deer may be lifted out of the area by helicopter. A veterinarian is on hand during all the capture operations, which will continue until mid-April when it becomes too risky to move pregnant deer.
The deer are expected to stay at Ridgefield Refuge, which is developing a sub-population to aid species recovery. The area surrounding Ridgefield Refuge is historic Columbian white-tailed deer range; refuge managers believe the deer will find abundant forage and cover. Ferrier says the goal is to have three stable and secure populations. Two already exist on parts of Julia Butler Hansen Refuge.
Repairing the Dike
The Service owns the land behind the dike, built in the 1920s, but the dike and the road above the dike are locally owned. The road has been closed for some time because of the impending danger. The Service is working with local officials and the Army Corps of Engineers on a more permanent solution. The Corps is planning to build a new dike as part of a larger plan to restore salmon fish habitat and then breach the old dike. New dike construction is expected to begin in the fall.