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Columbian White-Tailed Deer

Photo of a Columbian white-tailed deer by the USFWS

Scientific Name: Odocoileus virginianus leucurus

Lower Columbia River Population Status: Threatened

Critical Habitat: None Designated

Douglas County Population Status: Delisted

Potential Range Map

  • Introduction

    The Columbian white-tailed deer was federally listed as endangered in 1968, at which time only a small population was known to survive on islands and a small area of mainland in Washington along the lower Columbia River. In 1978, a small population of Columbian white-tailed deer was identified in Douglas County, in Southwest Oregon, and was subsequently listed as endangered. Since then, the Douglas County population rebounded and was delisted in July 2003. In November 2013, the USFWS released a five-year status review for the Lower Columbia River population. The review determined that the population had met the critieria for downlisting from endangered to threatened.  On October 17, 2016, the Lower Columbia River population was reclassified from endangered to threatened.  

    Historical Status and Current Trends

    The Columbian white-tailed deer is the western-most subspecies of white-tailed deer which occurs throughout North America. Early records indicate that Columbian white-tailed deer were once quite numerous over its historic range, from the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains to the ocean and from Puget Sound in Washington southward to the Umpqua River Basin in southern Oregon. This subspecies of white-tailed deer became endangered throughout its range due to habitat modification by human activities, such as farming and logging, as well as commercial and residential development. Overhunting and poaching also contributed to the decline. The remaining Columbian white-tailed deer occur in two separate populations. The Lower Columbia River population is found in Clark, Cowlitz, Pacific, Skamania and Wahkiakum Counties, Washington, and Clatsop,Columbia and Multnomah Counties, Oregon. The Douglas County population is found in the Umpqua River Basin, Douglas County, Oregon. When the Columbian white-tailed deer was listed, the number of deer remaining (across the entire species range) was estimated to be less than 1,000 individuals. Under the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the Douglas County population has increased to over 5,000 animals. The Lower Columbia River population suffered heavy losses due to extensive flooding of its habitat in 1996; however, it recovered beyond pre-flood numbers after a few years.  As of 2019, there are approximately 1,300 Columbain white-tailed deer in the Lower Columbia River population. 

    Habitat

    Columbian white-tailed deer are closely associated with riparian (riverside) habitats in both the Lower Columbia River and Douglas County populations. The deer found on islands in the Columbia River use "tidal spruce" habitats characterized by densely forested swamps covered with tall shrubs and scattered spruce, alder, cottonwood and willows. In Douglas County, the deer use willow and cottonwood habitats along rivers and streams, and are also found in oak-savannah habitats in the upland areas.

    Life History

    Only white-tailed bucks (male deer) have antlers, which are shed each winter. New antlers grow in early spring and reach full size in late summer. Breeding activity, referred to as the rutting period, begins the first week of November and lasts a month or more. Does (females) have a gestation period of approximately 210 days, with the peak of fawning occurring in mid-to-late June. Does give birth to one or two fawns, with an occasional doe producing triplets. Fawns stay with their mother until just prior to the next fawning season when the doe goes off by herself to give birth to the next generation.

    Conservation Measures

    Protection under the Endangered Species Act has resulted in acquisition, protection, and improvement of habitat, which has allowed the two populations to increase in size. A recovery plan was developed for the two populations of Columbian white-tailed deer in 1983. Many of the tasks identified in the Recovery Plan have been implemented. In 1972, the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed Deer was established in Wahkiakum County, Washington. Improvements in abundance and distribution are the result of maintenance and augmentaion of existing populations and to the establishment of new populations via successful tranlocations of deer within the Lower Columbia River population.  The most recent translocations resulted in a new population in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, which now contains roughly 200 deer.

    In Douglas County, the Bureau of Land Management acquired a large parcel of habitat, known as the North Bank Habitat Management Area (NBHMA), through a land exchange specifically to benefit the Columbian white-tailed deer. This parcel alone provides over 6,000 acres of good habitat for the deer. The USFWS has coordinated with the Bureau of Land Management and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at the NBHMA to accomplish recovery of the Columbian white-tailed deer. The acquisition and management of the NBHMA was instrumental in the delisting of the deer in 2003.

     


    Last updated: October 2019

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