deer

The state is willing to pay qualifying Camano Island property owners $1,000 to let people hunt deer.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced July 16 a plan to solve a problem more than a century in the making: overpopulation of deer that is putting pressure on birds, insects and native plants on habitats in Island and San Juan counties. Mainland properties in Western Snohomish County may be eligible as well. One property in the Warm Beach area is already enrolled.

“Humans largely extirpated the predators on the islands as far back as the 1860s,” WDFW biologist Ruth Milner said. “And, with fewer people hunting the islands, deer are over browsing native vegetation, which means less habitat for other species.”

Little publicly owned land exists in the islands; for many hunters, finding a place to go hunting is a huge challenge, officials said.

Landowners who participate may qualify for up to $1,000, funded by the United States Farm Bill.

“It is a win-win-win for the islands,” said Rob Wingard, a private lands access manager with WDFW. “If a property meets the criteria for a safe and productive hunt, we can work together with landowners to help native species, reduce islanders’ problems with deer and traffic hazards, and provide a unique experience for hunters seeking new places to find plentiful deer.”

To take part, island residents with more than 5 acres can call 360-466-4345, ext. 240 or email Robert.Wingard@dfw.wa.gov to set up an appointment.

“If your land qualifies, you can make up to $1,000 and provide benefits to native species,” Wingard said.

Landowners can specify how many hunters may hunt at one time, where they are allowed to go on the property, and decide which days they can come, but under this program, they can’t specify who is allowed access, he said.

“Deer are a public resource belonging to all the citizens of Washington, so all hunters who buy a hunting license are eligible to participate in the private lands access program,” Wingard said.

Those who qualify and enroll in the program will benefit from liability protections under state law and will be involved in assessing options for how to match their needs with hunters looking for a spot to hunt, he said. Hunters would gain access to private lands only after any concerns with safety or land access from either the agency or the landowner are resolved.

“Deer are native to the islands and a valuable component of the ecosystem,” Milner said. “That said, their high populations are decimating plants that are food for a whole host of other species, so we are looking for ways to reduce their numbers.”

Other solutions the agency is exploring include working to create and secure voluntary agreements with landowners that encourage habitat conservation and partnering with federal, county, and non-profit organizations to create protected habitat for Island Marble butterflies on San Juan and Lopez islands.

The Island Marble butterfly is found nowhere except on San Juan Island. Thought to be extinct since 1908, the butterfly was re-discovered by biologists during a prairie survey in San Juan Island National Historical Park in 1998.

The butterfly largely depends on tumble mustard. They lay their eggs on mustard flower buds, and their newly hatched larvae depend on mustard blossoms and leaves for food, said Milner.

Deer eat the mustard when other plants have been depleted, and thereby threaten the butterflies with extinction, she added.

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