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Guest Opinion: Little room to compromise with deer

The woods above Ashland were to my childhood friends and I, as the Mississippi was to Huck and Tom, a place of endless exploration. At 69, I am blessed my body still allows frequent runs, though much slower, on the trails in our watershed that have developed over the past 60 years.

Over that period of time there have been occasional sightings of a deer as it was bounding out of sight. This is only proper, for the deer that didn’t “high-tail-it” at the slightest approach of a human stood a good chance of winning the “Darwin Award”. Today they show no fear. This is dangerous for residents who treat them like pets and unhealthy for the deer.

Up through the time I left for Aspen in the late '70s, there was no deer issue. If you wanted to see deer in town, you could visit the zoo area above the upper duck pond in Lithia Park. This is not to say that there were no deer in town. It was just extremely rare.

I started landscaping in 1961 when my father started the Oak Knoll development and continued that career through the time I left Ashland. Choosing deer-proof material was not considered in that era. Deer were not a problem. Hunting and lax leash laws kept most deer from staying in town.

I have often been told that the deer were here first. This is an unarguable point. The implication being that before Mr. Helman and Mike Morris’s great-great-granddad, Eber Emery, hit town in 1852, all was in harmony, with deer teeming on the valley floor.

I tend to think that when the deer did graze, they did so with one ear pointed south and one eye north, wary long before white men, of the Indians, cougars, grizzlies and wolves. Like it or not, all creatures are part of the food chain and the deer are several rungs from the top. The game warden was created to protect the food source, not Bambi, since men lack sustainable self-discipline.

It is hard to imagine a person so callous as not to admire the grace and athletic ability of deer and their adorable fawns. The desire to protect them is understandable and commendable, but I find worrisome the level of passion that has increased in the five years between Deer Summit No. 1 and No. 2.

Frankly, in my view, there is little gray area for compromise. Deer are remarkably adaptable. They developed a relationship with humans, even adjusting their stomachs to the junk food of our cultivated gardens. No longer in fear of those above them on the food chain, they now have time to teach their children to look both ways while crossing the street; to not be frightened when a citizen comes up to them and looks into their eyes attempting an Ashland form of the deer whisperer; and, given a few generations, to learn to fetch a ball.

COEXIST is a great bumper sticker, but works only when both parties agree to do so. Ashland residents are being forced to adapt to the intrusion of the deer.

What are the rights of residents? I have the right to plant whatever I want to eat or look at as long as it doesn’t diminish my neighbor’s property values or his livability. He has no right to go into my yard and prune the plants to his liking. Furthermore, if his animals are a nuisance, it is his responsibility to restrain them, not mine to keep them out.

Many residents imply that they moved to Ashland because of the wildlife roaming around town. They gush over babies being born in the side yards. Though I have no first-hand knowledge, I hear mountain lion cubs are to die for. How cool would it be to have them set up shop permanently in the backyard?

I am resigned to accept that there is a growing force that will fight to protect the Disneyland version of nature. Many others observe that this is a classic case of overpopulation. Just consider, when Mother Nature decides to cull, it is usually messy compared to the human one-shot approach.

Michael Dawkins lives in Ashland.