Black-Tail Deer Fawns Will Aid Makah Tribe In Study of Deer Disease

NEAH BAY (June 26, 2006) — Indian and non-Indian harvest of black-tail deer on the North Olympic Peninsula has dropped by two-thirds between 1992 and 2003. Makah wildlife biologists believe that a parasite-induced hair loss disease called hair slip syndrome (HSS) is responsible for reducing the productivity of black-tail deer and harvest opportunities.

To test that theory, the tribe has radio-collared 50 black-tail deer fawns this spring both on- reservation and on private timberlands in the Seiku and Sooes River drainages. The fawns will be tracked for up to four years, which will include two reproductive cycles. HSS is caused by a non-native louse infestation that results in deer licking and scratching incessantly. The resulting hair loss reduces the animal’s ability to regulate its body temperature causing hypothermia, stress, exhaustion and even death.

Total Indian and non-Indian harvest of black-tail deer on the North Olympic Peninsula dropped from 963 to 302 in 11 years. Black-tail deer are vitally important to Makah subsistence and ceremonial needs. The sharp population drop led to the Makah tribal council designating black-tail deer as a species of concern.

“It’s been established that close deer-to-deer contact seems to spread the disease,” said Rob McCoy, wildlife division manager for the Makah Tribe. “We’re trying to determine the impact HSS has on the overall population.” Previous tribal studies have shown that about one fourth of the black-tail deer in our study area have the disease. “Comparing the productivity of deer that develop the disease to those that do not over the four- year period will tell us whether the disease is suppressing overall population growth,” said McCoy.”

HSS is more common with females than males. Following breeding season, the bucks generally become loners while groups of does and fawns will congregate together, said McCoy. Normally, most fawn deaths occur in the first months of life when they can’t escape predators. Mortalities decline sharply as they get older. Those infected with HSS, however, frequently die later in their first year when overall fawn mortalities should be dropping. “As a byproduct of this study, we’re getting important information about overall survival of black-tail deer fawns in general as there isn’t much literature available about fawn survival in Washington.”

Fawns collared as part of the study are carefully handled to minimize human scent and possible rejection by their mothers. “We have an established handling protocol. We observed all of the fawns back with their mothers by the following day and often before we were out of the capture area,” said Jon Gallie, wildlife biologist for the Makah Tribe.

KBH Archers, a Bremerton-based sportsmen group, private timberland managers Green Crow and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife assisted with the fawn capture.

The Makah tribal council provided $10,000 for the collars and a $25,000 federal Bureau of Indian Affairs grant provided for wildlife technician time and some supplies. “We’ve had a lot of in-kind donations of time as well as food and drinks for the capture effort, particularly from the KBH,” said McCoy.


For more information, contact: Rob McCoy, Wildlife Division Manager, Makah Tribe, (360) 645-3058; Jon Gallie, wildlife biologist, Makah Tribe, (360) 645-3069; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 374-5501, [email protected]