12/28/2017: "State Gives Fawns Euthanization Reprieve-For Now"
OLYMPIA - The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will not euthanize any more deer this winter at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Thurston County under an agreement with the facility's owners announced today.
The agreement follows WDFW's action Nov. 9 to euthanize three fawns and an elk calf removed from the For Heaven's Sake Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation facility in Rochester, where state wildlife managers found those animals - all males- to be habituated to humans and unfit for release into the wild.
While that action was consistent with state regulations, WDFW wildlife managers have agreed to work with the facility's owners, Claudia and David Supensky, to find other options for the 11 deer remaining at the rescue center.
"The department has a responsibility to intercede when animals become too habituated to humans to survive in the wild," said Eric Gardner, chief of WDFW's Wildlife Program. "We removed four animals that displayed signs of severe habituation, but we've agreed to work with the owners to find a mutually acceptable solution for the other deer in their care."
Before taking action in November, WDFW contacted a number of institutions licensed to care for deer on a long-term basis, Gardner said. The only one that expressed interest was Washington State University (WSU), which has tentatively agreed to take up to six female fawns for inclusion in a longstanding nutritional study.
Under its agreement with the Supenskys, WDFW will allow the remaining fawns to stay at the Rochester facility through March 16, 2018, although WSU could take some those animals before then. Gardner said the department will continue to seek potential homes for the deer and assess the status of those remaining at the facility in spring.
Gardner described the Supenskys, who have been licensed to operate their facility since 2010, as "caring people who work hard on behalf of the animals in their care." But responding to reports from concerned citizens, a WDFW veterinarian and other wildlife specialists observed signs of habituation among the deer at their facility during a series of visits starting in August.
"Those animals showed that they had lost their fear of humans and were still looking to be fed at a time when they should have been weaned and avoiding people," said Gardner, noting that state regulations generally prescribe that such animals be euthanized.
Under their agreement with WDFW, the Supenskys are required to minimize contact with the remaining deer, avoid hand-feeding them, and wean any of them that are still bottle-feeding. If they choose to keep taking ungulates, the agreement commits them to work with WDFW to develop a corrective action plan for their facility.
Gardner noted that there are 30 licensed wildlife rehabilitation facilities in Washington, most of which are registered non-profit organizations that rely on donations and grants to cover their operating expenses. Many of the animals that wind up in those facilities were "rescued" by well-meaning citizens who unwittingly separate the animals from their mothers.
"It's never a good idea to remove a fawn from its natural environment," Gardner said. "If you're concerned about an animal's situation, please call a WDFW regional office."