Columbia Gorge residents and outdoor recreating visitors see wildlife on a continual basis. Many wildlife species are found in the Gorge due to our diversity of forest, mountain, and high desert habitats, many wildlife species. While we don’t mind seeing smaller animals like birds and squirrels up close, most folks prefer seeing bear from a distance. And when larger wildlife like mountain lions are discovered, a frenzy of danger warnings and alerts unfortunately fill the air ways.
Mountain lions are not even close to being the most dangerous wild animal in the Gorge or Pacific Northwest. Surprisingly, black-tailed deer cause more injuries and deaths to people than all wildlife species combined.
If you have time to react to deer crossing the road, never swerve. Bad things can happen if you serve to the right, into a ditch or worse, or left, hitting ongoing traffic. As many of our major roadways follow waterways and many curves, don’t stop if you see a deer because of the possibility of being rear ended. Experts tell automobile drivers to slow down, honk your horn and head straight for the deer. Hopefully, the animal will move, but if you do strike a deer at lower speeds, the deer may survive and the human drivers will likely survive the accident.
Always remember that deer rarely travel alone so expect additional animals to cross the road.
Ecologically, mountains lions are considered the most important wildlife species in the West. Recent research showed at least 39 mammal and bird species (as well as hundreds of invertebrate species) feeding and depending on mountain lion kills. Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Project Cat had high school students working with anesthetized cats as biologists placed radio collars. All of the 25 monitored mountain lions stayed away from human habitation except for one, who killed a deer that was being fed daily by people!
The more we learn about Gorge wildlife, the more we can respect them, reduce human-wildlife encounters and live with our fellow Gorge passengers in harmony.
Check out ways of living with wildlife and managing land for wildlife by contacting the WDFW or ODFW webpage, or contact Wildlife Biologist Bill Weiler, firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in learning more about nature in the Gorge and help others to learn, you may like to participate in the OSU Extension Master Naturalist Program. In this program, you will join with me as well as other professionals to study all aspects of natural and cultural history (and present) of the Gorge. After completing the course, you share what you have learned by volunteering for one of the many organizations in the Gorge that help support our natural systems. For more information, go to extension.oregonstate.edu/mn.