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When deer attack: Ashlanders say something should be done, but no easy solutions

A dozen years ago, the sight of deer inside the city of Ashland was a fairly rare phenomenon. However, their population has grown steadily and now they are common, wandering about yards and streets in groups, dining on gardens and, more and more often, acting aggressive toward people and dogs as they walk about town.

Ashlanders seem divided about what to do about the problem, although there seems to be general consensus that it's not a good situation for people or the deer.

The city held a “Living With Wildlife” summit in April, trying to help residents learn to be safe around bears, cougars and deer.

“The city’s forested and riparian areas that are so much a part of the area’s natural beauty mean we all have to learn to live with wildlife," said City Administrator Dave Kanner. 

Rosemary Stussy of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife said the deer may look hungry and cute, but “If you feed them, they will come."

"If you don’t want them there, chase them away," she said. "You’ve got to tell these critters 'no.' Put repellent on plants. It may be smelly, but it’s a personal choice about how bad you want those flowers. Out in wildlands, don’t walk your dog through the brush. If they come at you, they aren’t coming for you; they’re coming for your dog. Wildlife are a fact of life and they’re not leaving.”

 Sherri Morgan, past president of the Master Gardeners, said gardeners should avoid plants that deer like. Feeding deer, she says, is always a bad idea and makes them more vulnerable to disease and predators — and may even attract the predators to your yard.

Some cities have handled the problem with birth control darts delivered to stags. Some allow archery hunting. Relocation has not been successful. We asked Ashlanders what, if anything should the city do?

Elisabeth Zinser — I’m very worried about the implications of deer in the middle of Siskiyou Boulevard. Someone could be hurt in an auto accident. It’s not healthy encouraging occupation of a city in these numbers. It’s an indication they lack food in the forest. We need to take action. ... We do have a city here, for better or worse. Eating of gardens doesn’t concern me. The deer are not healthy and we encourage it (by feeding them with gardens). They’re not getting the food they need. ... We need a genuine conversation of people with different points of view and human ways of dealing with this. I feel really badly for them.

Rissa Conway — The other evening, we just got actively stalked, attacked and then chased by a wild, crazy, murderous deer. It was terrorizing. Me and my mom and dog were walking up Morton, minding our own business. ... This deer started following us looking crazy and then came after us and jumped towards us with its front hooves just missing mom’s head. ... There were no sticks or rocks, but it was garbage day, thank God, so I grabbed a random (can). The deer lunged toward us and I used the garbage can as a shield jabbing it at the deer as we slowly backed up as it continued to attack. ... It was terrifying, seriously. I thought the deer was going to kill mom. The deer in Ashland are mutant robo deer. We were freaked out on the rest of our walk, looking behind our shoulders, half expecting to see a whole herd of them coming after us.

Kristen Lorange — There are lots of deer where I live above the library. I’ve had no aggressive encounters. They eat the garden and that’s heartbreaking. I hear you’re not supposed to harass them, but leave them alone and say shoo-shoo. They were here first. I do see it as a problem. I’m not comfortable with thinning their population. I don’t know the solution. We should coexist if possible. I’m concerned if they’re not healthy. They could be making others sick. I don’t want to kill them. I’m not worried about a personal threat from them. I do worry if they are foaming at the mouth.

Kait Fairchild — It’s gotten worse over the years. The city should do some kind of education with people. A lot of people don’t understand they are wild animals. When I’m walking, I give them a very wide berth, clap my hands and make loud noises. A lot of people think you can stroll right by them. That’s not true. You see herds of deer with five or six now, which is kind of a lot. The stuff you could plant 15 years ago, is not possible now. They eat it. I’ve seen tourists with little kids walk up and feed them. That is not smart. ... I would favor culling the herd somehow, making them more healthy and giving us a break. It’s not the deers’ fault, like 'Oh, we have crazy deer.'

Marcus Smith — Sterilize them with darts. They eat everything. I’ve been in the same house 30 years and have only had to add a fence in the last 20. They are a pain in the a--. They are stupid, inbred and sick and need to be phased out by sterilization.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.