Species Spotlight: Collaborative conservation puts Columbian white-tailed deer on road to recovery

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bigcwtdThe Columbian white-tailed deer began to decline in the Pacific Northwestern United States in the early 1900s due to unrestricted hunting and land conversion. Once numbering in the tens of thousands, less than 1,000 of the deer existed by 1975 when they were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

This installment of Species Spotlight examines the conservation actions of state, local and private partners to help recover the Douglas County and the Columbia River distinct population segments (DPS) of the Columbian white-tailed deer to the point of delisting and proposed delisting under the ESA.


Columbian white-tailed deer are threatened by both habitat modification and over-predation. After the species was listed under the ESA in 1975, wildlife managers and local partners began to reduce predation by restricting hunting and better managing coyote populations in the deer’s habitat in Washington and Oregon.

In response to habitat fragmentation that isolated herds and made forage harder to find, the Bureau of Land Management worked with state agencies, the Columbia Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy and local ranchers to create and protect new habitat. These protections included a 6,000-acre land exchange for the Douglas County DPS and the creation of the 5,600-acre Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge for the Columbia River DPS.


Overall Columbian white-tailed deer populations have risen steadily since 1975, from 2,500 in the early 1980s to more than 8,000 today. The Douglas County DPS has seen the greatest rebound, going from 400 animals in the 1940s to more than 6,000 today. This conservation success led to the DPS being delisted in 2003.

The Columbia River DPS also has made a dramatic recovery, to the point that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed delisting the segment in October 2015. If this second DPS is delisted, the recovery goal to reclassify the entire subspecies from “endangered” to “threatened” under the ESA will be met. If a third DPS is delisted, all Columbian white-tailed deer will be removed from ESA protection.

Species Spotlight, a case study series examining the challenges and opportunities in species conservation, is part of the Western Governors' Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative, the Chairman's Initiative of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead.

More in the Species Spotlight series: 

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