Action Alert: Washington Proposes to Move Columbian Whitetail from ‘Endangered’ to ‘Threatened’

August 30, 2022 By: Torin Miller

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recently released its draft status review for the Columbian white-tailed deer and is now seeking public comments on the recommendations. WDFW is recommending re-classifying Columbian white-tailed deer from endangered to threatened based on encouraging conservation gains and population growth, while also considering continued vulnerability.

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The population of Columbian white-tailed deer along the Columbia River in southwest Washington has grown in the last five years, with an estimated population of 1,296 deer in 2022. This proposed re-classification by WDFW is precisely how the wildlife conservation process is intended to operate: as populations recover, re-classification based on sound-science and data should be considered. The public can submit written comments on the review and recommendation via email or by mail to Taylor Cotten, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, P.O. Box 43141, Olympia, WA 98504-3200. Comments will be accepted through November 21, 2022.

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The mission of the National Deer Association (NDA) is to ensure the future of wild deer, wildlife habitat, and hunting. The Columbian subspecies of white-tailed deer represents a unique challenge encompassing all three. Fortunately, the future of the subspecies looks promising, and the NDA supports WDFW’s recommendation to reclassify the subspecies from endangered to threatened.

Columbian white-tailed deer were listed under the federal Environmental Species Act (ESA) in 1973, and by the state of Washington in 1980. The subspecies was reclassified to threatened at the federal level in 2016, and now Washington is looking to do the same at the state level.

Previous status reviews expressed concerns about the vulnerability of the deer’s habitat to threats such as climate change, emerging diseases, and a lack of connectivity. Uncertainties also surrounded the viability of a newly established subpopulation at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Although the environmental threats have not abated since then, the viability of the Ridgefield subpopulation has been proven. WDFW is confident that the deer at Ridgefield have established into a viable subpopulation with significant growth potential.

With this assessment, the lower Columbia River Population no longer fits the definition of Endangered as it is no longer under “serious threat of extinction” (Washington Administrative Code 220‐ 610‐110). Thus, the recommendation to reclassifying the Columbia River Population of Columbian white‐tailed deer to Threatened.

About Torin Miller:

Torin Miller is a licensed attorney and NDA’s Director of Policy. He works at the intersection of conservation and natural resources law, policy, advocacy and education. He has a bachelor's degree in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State University, a J.D. from Penn State Law and is finishing a master's degree in wildlife and fisheries science at Penn State. Torin came to NDA via the National Deer Alliance, where he served as the Policy and Outreach Coordinator.