Buckets of pears and apples are tempting bait underneath three massive ‘net traps’ to try and catch Columbian White Tail Deer on the Julia Hansen Wildlife Refuge.
It’s a deer species that Lewis and Clark counted by the thousands two centuries ago, but today less than one hundred live on the refuge that was created for them near Cathlamet, Washington.
Paul Meyers, a US Fish and Wildlife biologist, warned that the deer will be wiped out when the Columbia River floods the refuge this spring.
“The deer are definitely not going to be able to stay here if the area is flooded. They’ll be killed by dogs, starve to death, won’t breed well and slowly, the entire population will just peter out.”
Jackie Ferrier, US Fish and Wildlife Mgr, said the refuge was established in 1972 to protect the deer, so it’s ironic that they are now trying to save the species by moving them off of the refuge to another site.
She said the flooding threat showed up in 2011 when a critical dike began falling into the river.
“If it goes we could be flooded with two to six feet of water that will inundate all of the refuge," she said.
We visited the dike and could easily see where it had been “eaten away” by surging tides and strong winter storms that relentlessly beat against the dike.
Ferrier said it was what we couldn’t see that was "even worse."
A growing 60-foot deep hole in the river is gobbling up the dike’s dirt, rock and asphalt; the refuge’s last line of defense.
“If we lose the refuge – we lose the deer and $28 million in land and facilities. These are very scary times.”
There’s no money for a dike re-build that’s been pegged in the millions, so they’re preparing for the worst.
Meyers hopes to catch and move 50 of the deer before it’s too late. He said that the Columbian White-Tail Deer are an endangered species, the last of their kind and they are worth saving.
“Now, is that a big deal for people who live in New York? I don’t know, but for people who live here in the Pacific Northwest, I think it is a big deal.”
So, Meyers has employed three net traps and tranquilizing darts to get the capture job done.
Not far away from one of the trap sites, Meyers successfully shot a yearling female deer with a tranquilizing dart.
The young deer was fast asleep within minutes. It was a perfect shot that resulted in an even better capture.
While she was under, data was collected, blood samples were taken and a radio transmitter placed around her neck.
Nearby, a travel crate was prepped and Ferrier said that she was pleased to see one more deer captured. “The more we can capture now, the better off we’ll be because of the ticking time clock of the dike.”
An hour later, the deer was delivered 50 miles away to the Ridegfield Wildlife Refuge near Ridgefield, Washington.
A bit wobbly at first, she cautiously made her way into the deep cover of her new home.
Ferrier added that it was encouraging to see the young deer in a safe environment.
“She is so much safer here than she was a Julia Hansen Refuge so this is fantastic – just fantastic – I am so happy for her.”
The emergency deer rescue continues on the fast track for the next few weeks. Biologists aim to capture and transplant 50 of the endangered deer before fawning season begins in mid-April when it will become too dangerous to capture any more of the deer.