Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
February 2006

Sitka Black-Tailed Deer Colonize New Areas

By Riley Woodford
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In recent years, a few deer have been seen each winter in the Anchorage area, and reports include both bucks and does. Photo ADF&G

Seeing a deer step out of the forest is a treat for many folks, but it’s rarely a shock. But Anchorage residents have been quite surprised to catch sight of deer in recent years. Deer are just beginning to move in to the Anchorage area, a part of Alaska that has not historically been home to deer.

Brian Zaher watched a Sitka black-tailed deer in his driveway on O’Malley Road on Feb. 1. Zaher lived in Sitka for five years and he knows deer. He also works at the Anchorage Zoo, which has several deer in captivity.

“I saw this deer last night when I was coming home from work,” he said. “I was so surprised I came back to work to make sure one of our deer hadn’t escaped.”

In December, a Sitka black-tailed deer was photographed near the Anchorage airport post office. This marks the third winter in a row that deer have been seen in Anchorage, said wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Sinnott believes there could be several deer in the area.

Sitka black-tailed deer are native to the wet coastal rain forests of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. Their range extends up the coast to the Juneau area – almost 600 air miles from Anchorage. However, deer have had some help moving farther north. Two dozen deer were transplanted to Prince William Sound 90 years ago, and the deer now moving into the Anchorage area are likely their descendents.

In 1916, the Cordova Chamber of Commerce arranged to have eight deer from Sitka transplanted to Hinchinbrook and Hawkins Islands in Prince William Sound. Between 1917 and 1923, 16 more deer were introduced to the islands.

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Sitka black-tailed deer are found throughout most of Southeast Alaska, from sea level to the alpine. Deer were transplanted to Prince William Sound around 1920 and flourished. Photo by Riley Woodford

Those original 24 animals survived and flourished. Deer are good swimmers and spread to the mainland and to other islands in Prince William Sound. Legal hunting began in 1935, and these days, about 2,300 deer are harvested annually in the Prince William Sound Area.

Hinchinbrook and Hawkins Islands are about 150 air miles from Anchorage, separated by mountain ranges, glaciers, rivers, inlets and bays. The mountain passes between Prince William Sound and Anchorage are populated by wolves and filled with deep snow in winter. But reports of deer in those passes came in to Alaska Fish and Game biologists during the 1990s.

“We’ve had reports of deer in the Portage and Placer river drainages during the past decade,” Sinnott said. “Several years ago we had several winters with very little snow, especially before Christmas, and that is when the deer were first seen in Anchorage. They've also been seen and photographed along the Seward Highway between Portage and Anchorage in the last few years.”

Since 2002, a few deer have been seen each year, and reports include both bucks and does.

Sinnott said that typically, people see only one deer at a time. “We assume it's the same deer unless the sightings are too far apart to suggest otherwise, or the sightings involve a buck and a doe, for instance. One person reported seeing a buck and doe together in his yard. I didn't talk to him, but if that's correct, we now have a breeding population.”

Riley Woodford is a deer hunter and wildlife watcher, and serves as a writer and editor with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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