“Long-lost Deer Found on West Coast by Service Naturalist”

Refuge Update May-June 2009

Victor Scheffer in 2002
Credit: Ron Reeder

This headline on a 1941 press release from the U.S. Department of the Interior identified Victor B. Scheffer as the naturalist who discovered a band of about 600 Columbia white-tailed deer along the Washington-Oregon border.  Lewis and Clark had described these deer, whose tails and antlers differ from other whitetails and whose habitat was largely destroyed by farmers and hunters. 

By the early 1900s, scientists believed the deer were extinct.  But Scheffer had heard local residents describe herds of what they called cottontails. Refuge System Budget Director Larry Williams wrote in Quality Whitetails magazine that Scheffer mounted four trips to the lower Columbia River to gather evidence which ultimately included 23 skulls, 4 skins and an assortment of antlers. It took another 32 years for Congress to create the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed Deer but the deer was first listed as endangered in 1967, six years before Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act. 

Scheffer was born in Kansas in 1906 but grew up in Washington, where his father was a biologist for the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey (the predecessor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) for 27 years. The younger Scheffer would hold the same position for 29 years.  Then he went on to teach at his alma mater, the University of Washington, write 13 books and more than a hundred scientific articles and serve on a variety of scientific boards. 

Scheffer’s book The Year of the Whale, won the John Burroughs Medal as the best natural history book of 1969. His 1974 work calling for a new wilderness ethic, A Voice for Wildlife, received the Humane Society’s highest honor – the Joseph Wood Krutch Medal.  He chaired the Marine Mammal Commission until his seventieth birthday.

Scheffer also wrote lighthearted, informative scripts for the public radio program BirdNote, expressing his belief that “sentiment or emotion is a necessary and healthy part of decision-making, along with science, exploration and discovery, in the management of our natural resources.” He did not retire from BirdNote until last year, when he was 102. “Exercising my sense of wonder about the world,” Scheffer had said, “has had a healthy effect on my immune system.”