Columbian White-tailed Deer

Odocoileus virginianus leucurus
Columbian white-tailed deer - USFWS

Home to the Columbian white-tailed deer (CWTD), the Julia Bulter Hansen Refuge is a shelter of over 6,000 acres of pastures, swamps, brushy woodlots and marshes. As a matter of fact, the Refuge was specifically established in 1971 to protect the then endangered deer.

Distinctive Deer

CWTD are distinguished from mule or black-tailed deer by their longer tail that is brown, rather than black, on the dorsal surface. The CWTD is one of 30 subspecies of white-tailed deer in North America, and the only one found west of the Cascade Mountains. While once found in a contiguous area in south western Washington and western Oregon, CWTD now exist in only two distinct geographically isolated populations. CWTD have natural predators such as coyotes, but it has been the habitat changing agricultural practices and commercial development that, over time, have disrupted the riparian ecosystems that now limit population expansion.

Life on the Edge

Columbian white-tailed deer feed on young willow, cottonwood, alder and other deciduous trees in the riparian areas. Because they are considered to be grazers and an “edge species”, the CWTD prefer using the edges between open lands, such as grasslands and pastures, and a mature forest where their cover and food are with in close proximity. When grazing, they prefer young, shorter grasses and forbs that are more palatable and nutritious.

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Family Life

Individual does can give birth to 1-4 fawns a year, although twins are the most common for adult deer. If they reproduce, fawns and yearlings usually have a single fawn. CWTD usually gather in family groups ranging from 2-12 individuals. The females usually stay in family groups while bucks tend to be found alone.

Recovery of a Species

Present recovery objectives for the Columbia River Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of CWTD are to have a minimum of 400 deer, with at least three subpopulations of 50 or more individuals in secure habitat. Currently, five subpopulations qualify as secure.  These include the JBH Refuge Mainland, JBH Refuge Tenasillahe Island, the Upper Estuary Islands (including JBH Refuge's Crims Island), Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and Puget Island.  Tenasillahe Island and Puget Island are also considered viable subpopulations.  JBH Refuge Mainland and Ridgefield NWR subpopulations currently exceed 50 individuals, but require further monitoring prior to determining viable status.  

One of the most successful ways to enhance subpopulations has been the translocation of individual deer into appropriate habitat along the Columbia River corridor. The most recent translocation efforts have placed CWTD at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Find out more about translocation efforts…

Refuge staff and volunteers have also enhanced the habitat for the CWTD by planting and maintaining early, mid, and late successional riparian forests to provide cover and browse, while also restoring and maintaining meadow habitat to provide needed forage.  

A combination of conservation activities have proven successful in the recovery of the species. In 2013, the USFWS published the 5-year Review of the Columbian River DPS in which it recommended that the DPS be downlisted from Endangered to Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Read the 5-year review.  And in October of 2016 the deer were officially reclassified as Threatened.  Read the Final Rule.

Find out more about recovery efforts...

Facts About Columbian White-tailed Deer

Lewis and Clark's expeditition harvested this species in 1806 along the lower Columbia River.

Listed as an endangered species in 1967.

Reclassified as a threatened species in 2016. 

Can have up to four fawns at one time - the typical number is two.