ASHLAND — Biologists, Southern Oregon University students and volunteers will attempt the first census of the burgeoning deer population in town.
SOU professor of biology Michael Parker is helping to devise a plan for counting deer during a half-hour window during the early morning hours of Oct. 13.
The count will help establish a baseline number for the deer population in Ashland. It will be repeated in the spring.
Over time, fall and spring counts could be used to develop a long-term database of deer population trends, Parker said.
"One of the main purposes is to start gathering some real data about deer in the city. There are no data," he said. "There's so much speculation going on. We want to see if we can use citizen volunteers to collect meaningful data."
The city will be divided into seven to nine sections, with volunteers walking through the different areas and filling out data sheets on what they observe, Parker said.
Keeping the count at 30 minutes will help ensure that deer aren't double-counted, he said.
"We don't know what will happen with the first deer census. It may be a complete flop," Parker said. But he added that he thinks the count will be worth the effort for any data it can uncover.
The growing number of urban deer are sometimes seen as a scenic addition to the city, but some residents are upset by damage to gardens and landscaping. Deer also have attacked dogs and people in town, possibly because does with fawns have felt threatened.
Parker said while discussions about deer are common in Ashland, people don't know whether the urban deer population has increased dramatically in recent years, whether the deer distribution in neighborhoods has changed over time, if more fawns are being born in town, or if the number of sick and injured deer is on the rise.
Ashland residents have discovered dead fawns lately but it's not clear what has killed them.
SOU professor emeritus of biology Frank Lang, who is helping with the upcoming deer count, said while some residents have blamed the deaths on gray foxes, nature may be controlling the deer population with starvation, disease and predators such as cougars.
Parker said if Ashland does discover it has a booming deer population, there's not much city officials can do about the matter. But he said one positive step could be to adopt an ordinance banning the feeding of wildlife.
Ashland Mayor John Stromberg, who sowed the seed for the deer census when he asked whether data could be gathered on the deer population, said city staff are researching ordinances in other towns that ban the feeding of wildlife.
"I'll at least bring it up for the City Council to consider," Stromberg said.
While some Ashland residents have proposed using birth control on deer, Parker said that approach is costly and generally ineffective.
He said the best way for Ashlanders to deal with deer could be to plant deer-resistant plants, install sturdy fences, pick up fruit that falls from trees and avoid feeding wildlife.
For more information about Ashland's first deer census or to volunteer, send an email to email@example.com.
Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.