Up and Away! Endangered deer get ride out of threatened refuge

WAHKIAKUM COUNTY, Wash. - It was moving day Tuesday for some of Washington's endangered white-tailed deer and wildlife officials used a helicopter to help capture them.

They were captured at the Julia Butler-Hansen Refuge near Cathlamet and moved to another reserve near Ridgefield.

While the deer may be endangered, they may be even in more danger in the refuge.

A dike alongside the Columbia River is wearing out and giving way. When it breaks - and it won't last much longer - the river will flow into the refuge, flooding it with five to 10 feet of water.

There will then only be enough habitat for about half the deer, so the other half, about 50 of them, has to be moved.

And fixing the dike won't fix the problem.

"Even if we armored this and protected it, the river would just move down (to either side of the fixed area) and do the same thing again," said Doug Zimmer with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department.

The river once flowed in the refuge and Zimmer said it naturally wants to flow there again.

So to move the deer, a helicopter crew hazed them Tuesday, scaring them out of the brush and toward volunteers with nets. And if that didn't work, a crewmember fired a net from the helicopter, capturing the deer. It was then blindfolded, sedated and hauled away by truck to a new home.

Officials tried to keep the stress to a minimum, but not every deer survived.

"Any capture you stand the risk of injured deer, you stand the risk of losing deer," said Zimmer. "It's something you worry about. You can't get around it."

Out of the 40 deer saved so far, one deer died.

Wildlife managers want to get the moving done before the dike breaks, but also by mid-April. They're worried about the stress it can cause for pregnant does, and that's when they'll start having their fawns.