More than 20 years after Columbian white-tailed deer were declared endangered, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is drawing up a proposal that would remove one population of deer from the list and upgrade the other.
“It is kind of a good success story,” said Craig Tuss, supervisor for the agency’s field office in Roseburg.
Of more than 1,000 plants and animals listed as endangered species, fewer than 50 have been removed from the list - and many of those were due to extinction.
Just two populations of Columbian white-tailed deer remain: one in the low-lying oak and savanna of Douglas County; the other in a contrasting habitat of dense forested swamps found on islands in the lower Columbia River.
In Douglas County, it appears there are enough deer with enough habitat stored away for the future to take them off the list, Tuss said.
Along the lower Columbia, the deer would be considered for “downlisting” from endangered to threatened, he said.
The Columbian white-tailed deer historically ranged from Puget Sound to southern Oregon, but their numbers dwindled as settlers moved into their preferred habitat along rivers and streams in the Northwest. “Those are the same type of areas (where) we like to build our homes,” Tuss said.
A push in recent years to restore riparian areas may allow the deer to return to areas where development had driven them away, biologists said.
“It looks like there is potential for getting white-tail established,” said Mike Black, district wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Roseburg.
In Douglas County, the estimated population of Columbian white-tailed deer is about 5,500, far exceeding the recovery goal of 1,000.
About 550 deer live on 10,076 acres of “secured habitat,” including the 6,500-acre North Bank Habitat Management Area, a lowlands parcel acquired by the Bureau of Land Management in a timber exchange in 1995.
Jerry Mires, the BLM’s lead biologist in the area, said 40 percent of the deer on the property are Columbian white-tailed deer; the rest are the more typical black-tailed deer.
A state survey last year estimated almost 350 white-tailed deer are on the property between Glide and Wilbur.
Tuss said there are 10 to 15 animals across the nation currently being considered for de-listing or downlisting. In Oregon, they include the Columbian white-tailed deer and peregrine falcon.
A de-listing still would have to undergo the same period for scientific review and public comment that comes with a listing. “There is no guarantee that the deer will get delisted,” Tuss said, but acknowledged the agency is now ready to push the process forward.