Columbian White-Tailed Deer Relocation
By Megan Nagel, USFWS
Dressed in camouflage, chest high waders and a face mask, I listened to the buzz of the bright red helicopter as it ducked and swooped through the trees behind me. Dropping cracker shells into the scrub below – Pop! Pop! – the helicopter soon passed directly over my head, where I was hiding behind a tree in a stand of tall grass. This was my cue. I jumped out of the grass with my arms spread wide, knowing that I could be all that stands between a successful capture or missed opportunity. But I didn’t see a single Columbia white-tail deer. That’s how it goes in the field some days.
Little did I know that by the end of the day, 12 deer would be successfully captured.
As a public affairs officer for the Pacific Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I don’t often get the opportunity to participate in the biological work that takes place in the National Wildlife Refuge System. But on Tuesday, March 19, 2013, I had the privilege of helping refuge staff in the effort to relocate endangered Columbian white-tailed deer from Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge to Ridgefield NWR.
Located in southwestern Washington along the Columbia River, the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed Deer was established in 1972 specifically to protect and manage the endangered Columbian white-tailed deer. The dike on Steamboat Slough, which forms a barrier between the river and the refuge, is on the verge of failing and if it does go, it would result in habitat loss that would endanger the deer and set back their timeline for recovery and removal from the endangered species list.
Since capture efforts began in late January, 22 deer had been moved. On Tuesday, an additional 12 deer were relocated due to the efforts of refuge staff, Leading Edge Aviation LLC, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, several veterinarians and community volunteers.
Typically, the deer have been captured by drop netting, where biologists and the veterinarians can quickly gather the biological data needed, tag the deer and fit them with radio collars before sedating them and putting them into crates for transport. But on Tuesday, the folks from Leading Edge Aviation LLC lent a hand. Initially, they were using the helicopter to drive the deer towards the net. Volunteers like me were supposed to wait, hidden in the trees and scrub, for the helicopter to pass overhead, then stand up and prevent the deer from escaping.
However, the drives weren’t working on Tuesday. We didn’t see any deer! So, the biologists and helicopter crew employed a technique called “net-gunning.” The helicopter crew dropped nets from the helicopter onto deer below, quickly landed the helicopter, blindfolded, hobbled and sedated the deer then placed them into a sling for transport to the waiting Service biologists, who completed the biological processing and preparation for safe transport. The whole process took minutes and I was both impressed and a little surprised by how gentle both the helicopter crew and biologists were with the deer.
Once the deer were put into crates, they were loaded onto a truck and moved to Ridgefield NWR, where they were released. The passion, hard-work and care that go into moving these animals are inspiring. Everyone involved in the relocation effort is doing this with one thing on their mind: ensuring these deer are recovered and removed from the endangered species list. Watching as those deer bounded from their crates, a smile spread across my face – and has stayed there since.
View the photo album of this relocation effort on our Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwspacific/sets/72157633057209138/
To learn more about the relocation effort, please visit: http://www.fws.gov/jbh/translocation.html
The mission of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and
enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
Photos by Tim Jewett/USFWS:
Photo 1: After being netted, blindfolded and sedated by the helicopter crew, the deer were flown a short distance to the site were they were prepped by biologists and veterinarians for relocation to Ridgefield NWR.
Photo 2: The deer are blindfolded to help keep them calm during the capture and relocation preparation process.
Photo 3: Transporting the deer to the truck in a specially designed crate.
Photo 4: Before being released at Ridgefield NWR, all of the deer were weighed.
Photo 5: Columbian white-tailed deer after being released at Ridgefield NWR.