Makah Black-Tail Deer Study Shedding Light On Coastal Populations

NEAH BAY (June 21, 2005) – About one-quarter of the black-tail deer examined as part of a study by the Makah Tribe are afflicted with a parasite-induced hair loss disease called hair slip syndrome. Hair loss reduces the ability of the deer to regulate its body temperature during cold spring rains, which can lead to hypothermia, stress, exhaustion and often death.

Recently, Oregon state wildlife scientists concluded the syndrome is caused by a non-native louse that likely came to the United States via imported exotic deer. Lice cause the deer to lick and scratch incessantly, resulting in hair loss.

Makah wildlife biologists believe the incidence of hair slip is high enough that it is depressing black deer populations on the North Olympic Peninsula. They are expanding their study to confirm that belief by tracking the offspring of mothers with the hair slip syndrome. “We want to study these fawns through the birth of their own fawn,” said Jon Gallie, wildlife biologist for the Makah Tribe. “All the deer with the syndrome don’t die, but the mortality rate reported in other studies is from 30 to 70 percent.” Fawns probably contract hair slip from their mother.

During the past two years, Makah tribal biologists have radio collared 35 deer, on and off -reservation. Along with quantifying the incidence of hair loss, biologists are identifying habitat preferences of the deer, tracking deer behavior relative to logging roads, causes of mortality, and overall survival rates.

Tribal biologists were expecting to see a surge in fawn survival this year because of increased logging activity both on and off reservation that initially increases forage for deer and elk. “That, coupled with two consecutive mild winters, led us to expect higher survival, but that’s not the case and part of it might be related to the high percentage of deer with the hair loss,” said Gallie. “There could be other factors, but we’ll have a better idea after we process some of the data this fall.”

Evaluating competition for forage between elk and black tail deer is an additional element of the research. There are few studies about competition for forage between elk and black tail deer, so the tribe is conducting their own study. “We already have all the information about what our elk eat from a previous study, so we’re collecting deer feces and sending it in for analysis. We’ll see if there are plants they compete for,” said Rob McCoy, wildlife division manager for the tribe. “If it’s roughly the same, we know we can manage forage for elk and know that we’re also managing for deer,” said McCoy. “But, we expect to see some differences in diet because the deer generally prefer upslope clearcut habitat and elk prefer floodplain and wetland habitat.”

“Deer and elk are an important food source to the tribal community. Understanding the dynamics of the populations and their relationship to habitat is important to manage them and the landscape effectively,” said McCoy. Results of the study will help the Makah Tribe protect critical habitat on lands covered by the tribe’s forest management plan.

Funding for the program was provided by the Administration for Native Americans Fund, Unresolved Fishing and Hunting Rights Fund and the tribe.


For more information contact: Rob McCoy, Makah wildlife division manager, (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]