Ridgefield may be new refuge for deer

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter



RIDGEFIELD — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing an emergency move of approximately 50 endangered Columbian white-tailed deer from the Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge near Cathlamet to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge to help the animals survive.

Steamboat Slough dike along the Columbia River near Cathlamet is likely to fail at any time.

Public meeting slated Tuesday

RIDGEFIELD — A public information workshop is scheduled Tuesday at the Ridgefield Community Center, 210 N. Main Ave., to discuss plans to move white-tailed deer to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and Cottonwood Island.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will meet with the public from 3 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. at the center.

A second meeting is scheduled Wednesday at the Sauvie Island Academy, 14445 N.W. Charlton Road, also from 3 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

A dike breach will flood the mainland unit of Julia Butler Hansen refuge and place the approximately 100 white-tails living on the refuge at extreme risk.

A breach will cause daily flooding of the Hansen refuge. Flooding can result in deer drowning when caught in fences and vegetation, starving when living in poor habitat and getting hit by vehicles when crossing roads.

One week of flooding in 2009 resulted in a population drop of 27 percent.

Chris Lapp, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Complex project manager, said the goal is to move 50 of the white-tails to Ridgefield plus 15 white-tails from Puget Island at Cathlamet to Cottonwood Island, a large Columbia River island at the mouth of the Cowlitz River.

The goal is to have all the deer moved by mid-April. Deer moved in spring tend to disperse less.

A variety of capture methods are possible including bait sites with drop nets, darting with sedatives, or helicopter netting. The captured animals will be blindfolded, sedated, given antibiotics and supplements and loaded into small crates for transport to Ridgefield refuge.

Lapp said the Fish and Wildlife Service has identified release sites on the Carty unit, Bachelor Island and Roth unit of Ridgefield refuge with suitable habitat and isolation for the deer.

The refuge has about 1,000 acres of good deer habitat and a healthy population of black-tail deer. A habitat assessment says Ridgefield can support at least 77 white-tails.

But, will all the white-tails stay on the refuge?

“We really won’t know until their hoofs hit the ground,’’ Lapp said. “There’s a possibility that some will leave the refuge.’’

Some of the deer possibly could swim across Lake River and move to the Ridgefield bluff or they could swim across the Columbia and end up on Sauvie Island, he said.

The most likely scenario is that some deer could move back and forth between the Carty unit and private land adjacent to the north end of the refuge, he said.

Cottonwood Island, a 1,000-acre dredge spoil site, has fewer than 10 white-tails. Inbreeding is expected to start without an influx of more deer.

Columbian white-tailed deer are unique to western Washington and western Oregon, once ranging in river valleys from the Umpqua River north to Puget Sound.

Due to overhunting and habitat loss, the white-tails were thought extinct by the 1930s.

Remnant populations were discovered along the lower Columbia and near Roseburg, Ore.

The population was listed as endangered in 1968 and the Hansen refuge was established in 1971.