NEAH BAY (June 23, 2004) — The Makah Tribe is trying to figure out why black-tailed deer populations in the Neah Bay area haven’t rebounded from a parasite-induced loss of hair, called hair slip syndrome. Less hair reduces the ability of the deer to regulate its body temperature during cold spring rains, leading to hypothermia, stress, exhaustion and often death.
“We just don’t see as many deer,” said Rob McCoy and Jon Gallie, wildlife biologists for the Makah Tribe. “We have seen reduced numbers both in tribal subsistence harvest and in population surveys.”
The biologists know the hair slip syndrome is prevalent in the deer population on timberlands adjacent to the reservation and has yet to be documented on reservation lands. They believe the syndrome may play a major role in lowering the population within the areas tribal members usually hunt. “Research conducted by the WDFW seems to indicate there is not a significant population level affect from hair slip, however, we’re seeing a population problem on tribal lands and lands adjacent to the reservation,” said McCoy.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) believes hair slip syndrome originates with a parasitic muscle worm, which lays eggs in the bloodstream. Eggs hatch in the capillaries of the lungs and can cause low-grade pneumonia. Many deer die from the pneumonia, but the worms also cripple the immune system. With the immune system compromised, lice numbers increase dramatically. Lice cause deer to lick and rub obsessively, creating actual hair loss in those areas. The syndrome appears to particularly affect fawns and yearlings. “Some animals do survive, but deer with the syndrome have a mortality rate from 30-70 percent,” said Gallie.
“We don’t know if poor habitat in combination with the disease or other factors, such as predation, is keeping the populations low,” said McCoy. Habitat in the area is mostly managed timberland –owned by the tribe and private timber companies. Clear cutting provides an immediate benefit to black-tailed deer, according to researchers in British Columbia, Canada. Young trees and plants preferred as food by deer grow prolifically for a few years, but after that, the trees grow to shade out other plants. “So it’s a boom and bust cycle,” said McCoy.
“There’s also the issue of cover – black-tailed deer seek to be close to cover, so while they may have a huge open clearcut to browse, they will only use a small part of it so they can stay close to the cover for protection,” said McCoy.
As part of a four-year Makah study, the biologists have radio collared 14 deer and will collar a total of 30. Biologists use the radio collars to track home ranges, habitat use, and causes of death such as hunting, disease, or predation. The study will also provide an estimate of the number of deer and track the incidence of hair loss syndrome with the radio-collared deer as well as other deer observed in the study area.
“The study results will aid in managing the forested areas of the reservation under the Makah Forest Management Plan,” said McCoy. “It will help protect critical habitats affected by forest practices, and play a key role in the long-term planning and regulation of land covered by the tribe’s future Comprehensive Land Use Plan.” It will also allow the natural resource managers to improve management of deer on the reservation.
The study is part of a $340,000 federal grant that will also pay for studies of marbled murrelet and salmon populations on the reservation.
For more information, contact: Rob McCoy, Makah wildlife biologist, (360) 645-3058; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 374-5501, ext. 22.