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New law allows cities to cull urban deer, but idea is DOA in Ashland

While the state legislature has passed a bill to set up a 12-year pilot program for the “taking” (euthanizing) of excess urban deer, Ashland Mayor John Stromberg says such action doesn’t work and the city isn’t going to do it.

Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 373, which requires the State Fish and Wildlife Commission to adopt a pilot program for urban deer population control, into law June 14, after it passed both the House and Senate by overwhelming margins. It takes effect Jan. 1.

The new law was hurriedly passed with no debate in the final days of the Legislature, says Rep. Pam Marsh, as part of a routine “consent calendar.” She was one of 56 representatives voting in favor of the bundle of bills, with only two opposed. Sen. Alan DeBoer joined a Senate 28-1 super-majority in favor.

Ashland's urban deer population has been a hugely controversial situation here, with some people saying deer were here first and should be allowed the right to live — and others reporting deer attacks during the rut or in fawn season and wanting protection.

The new law doesn’t tell cities to do anything, but simply opens the door for cities to petition the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife for permission to humanely kill deer, without darts or chemicals, so meat can be donated to food banks.

“It’s not going to be a no-brainer here in Ashland,” said Marsh. “If there’s a discussion, it would be huge. The answer could be that it doesn’t work. … My thinking is that it’s not a path Ashland will choose to go down, probably. We should think about it and debate it, though, and make a decision as a community.”

While pointing to some rare communities that have a “deer-hunting day” with guns or arrows, Marsh says that’s unimaginable here.

“This law is not for some kind of free-for-all,” she says. “Statewide, ODFW would make it closely structured and would monitor this pilot program and report back as to what kinds of rules are necessary. It’s all very preliminary. … It raises the question of how you corner deer so it’s not an issue to people. It would have to be organized in a way that people can accept it. I don’t know if that can be done.”

Given the no-no on guns, Marsh said some cities might go with traps, then remove deer for euthanasia and butchering for food.

Mayor Stromberg was specific, noting, “Killing of deer one way or the other is problematic and not a viable solution. I believe it would be very divisive. Experts don’t think it’s effective.”

He said the bill was probably introduced and passed to deal with pressure from some of the public.

The city of Ashland, says Stromberg, is guided by the conclusions of experts, including Biology Department Chairman Michael Parker of Southern Oregon University, who notes on the city website that sterilization of deer doesn’t work and “nothing remotely suggests there will be a solution for an urban deer problem anytime soon (if ever).”

Also on the website, Mark Vargas of ODFW says, “… this type of management action (sterilization) will not be prudent. Ashland has hundreds of deer and miles of access to public lands with even more deer available for migration” if some deer are taken from the urban population.

Sam Dodenhoff, a wildlife biologist for ODFW in Central Point, says, “It’s something the city and residents are always going to struggle with. The city has passed an ordinance prohibiting people from feeding deer or putting out attractants. For the city to gain public approval of lethal control would be a lot of work, but some are very serious about it.”

An alternative to guns, he adds, would be a “live trap,” steel with a mesh net and trip lever, where “the door slides shut behind them. It holds the animal to the ground so they don’t bounce around. They would be transported outside the city limits and discreetly euthanized with a firearm.”

“Talk about it being done ‘humanely’ presumes it works, but it doesn’t," Stromberg observes. "This bill is not going to help.”

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

A buck turns around to see what's behind him on Tuesday in Ashland near Woolen Way. [Daily Tidings/Bert Etling]
A doe finds some shade in an Ashland neighborhood off Gresham Street. [Mail Tribune / File Photo]