With their population on the rebound, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed downgrading the protection status of the Columbian whitetail deer.
The population of Columbian whitetail deer, one of the first species of animals to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, has recovered to the point where the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USWFS) proposed last week to reclassify the deer from endangered to threatened.
With their numbers down to an estimated 450 individuals in 1967, the Columbian whitetail deer joined the bald eagle and California condor as initial members on the Endangered Species List.
Today, there are more than 900 deer in the lower Columbia River area, according to the Capital Press.
Through its protected status, wildlife managers were able to rehabilitate the deer’s numbers largely due to the establishment of the Julia Butler Hansen Wildlife Refuge. Within the boundaries of this refuge, the elk herds were controlled to restrict competition for food.
Predator populations were managed while ongoing habitat management to diversify food sources and eliminate invasive vegetation led to a healthier environment for the deer.
Oregon state supervisor for USFWS, Paul Henson, said they are making “tremendous progress in recovering this species.”
“We now have more deer in more places. The population has essentially more than doubled since the species was first listed,” Henson reported.
Even with this progress, some wildlife managers want the deer to re-establish themselves across their historical range before completely removing their protected status.
Still, USFWS hopes the reclassification will make people less nervous about having protected deer on their property which would aid in their expansion. A rule in the reclassification plan would permit private landowners to manage deer numbers as needed.
According to USFWS, the Columbian whitetail deer is the western-most subspecies of whitetail. Once abundant from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and from Puget Sound in Washington southward to the Umpqua River Basin in southern Oregon, this subspecies of deer became endangered due to habitat modification such as farming and logging, as well as development, over-hunting, and poaching.