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City deer in the crosshairs

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Cities such as Ashland and Jacksonville would be allowed for the first time to kill nuisance deer under a proposed statewide pilot program to help cities cull their sometimes overwhelming urban deer herds.

But Ashland Mayor John Stromberg said he doesn’t see that applying to his town, and he believes there are more options to deal with Ashland’s urban deer short of “the final option.”

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote Friday in Salem on whether to issue kill permits to cities to either shoot or trap and euthanize deer within city limits, and even on private property should they get permission from the owner or resident, the draft rules state.

Cities would first have to ban the feeding of deer and pass a city ordinance declaring them a public nuisance before seeking kill permits from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for specific numbers of deer — in a fashion similar to what ODFW offers rural landowners with deer problems.

“It’s going to be a heavy lift for cities to get the support they need community-wise,” said Trevor Watson, an ODFW biologist in Klamath Falls who helped draft the program language based on a 2017 bill creating the program.

“Capture and release is not an option we considered or is allowed under the bill,” Watson said.

If adopted, the program would just squeeze under the Jan. 1, 2019, deadline required by the law aimed at giving cities a way to cull urban deer blamed for damaging gardens, triggering auto accidents and luring predators such as cougars to town.

The League of Oregon Cities supports the proposal, saying it “will inject a needed element of local control in addressing nuisance animals when a hazard situation exists,” according to an email sent by Scott Winkels, the league’s intergovernmental relations associate.

Winkels’ email was the only public correspondence published in ODFW’s staff report.

While Ashland struggles with its urban deer, Stromberg said discussing the killing of them would be “a very potentially upsetting issue” in town.

“It’s clearly a very difficult and sensitive issue in Ashland,” Stromberg said. “I think there are more possibilities that would be explored. I think the final option isn’t a good option for Ashland.”

Jacksonville City Administrator Jeff Alvis said he sees urban deer problems as cyclical, with populations building up and dying off as if “nature’s been doing its own thing.”

Alvis said he doesn’t believe Jacksonville currently has a deer problem, and “I couldn’t imagine” the public debate before a city council that would consider opting into the program.

“We’ll see how that goes,” Alvis said.

While Medford has a 2-year-old ban on feeding wildlife, it applies more to turkeys, and Medford residents have voiced far more concern about cougars in town than deer, Medford City Manager Brian Sjothun said.

Wilson said he has heard interest from some cities, including Burns and Hines, which join Medford and Ashland in already having ordinances banning the feeding of deer.

Under the program’s proposed language, cities that receive kill permits would decide by who and where the deer would be killed.

Any animals killed on other than city-owned property would require written authority from the landowner or occupant, the draft states.

Only non-lead bullets could be used, and all euthanasia methods would have to comply with the most recent American Veterinary Medical Association standards.

Those who kill deer under the program would be required to report the number and sex of the animals taken, including the number of antler points on bucks. Also, any salvageable meat would be processed at the city’s expense and donated to a food bank or other charitable organization, according to the draft.

The draft also would allow cities to sell the hides and antlers within 30 days to licensed vendors, or the antlers would have to be turned over to ODFW.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTwriterFreeman.

A doe finds some shade in an Ashland neighborhood off Gresham Street. Mail Tribune file photo