(Update: Adding video, comments from La Pine community meeting, Tony DeBone)
La PINE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Several upset residents in south Deschutes County say hunters shot and killed 3-4 elk last Saturday, one reportedly illegally, in an area they consider way too close to many homes, popular recreation areas and Spring River Road. An already scheduled community meeting Tuesday night became a forum on the issue.
"I heard shots early in the morning, before sun-up," one resident told NewsChannel 21. "I was on my way to the hardware store, the Ace Hardware, and I saw a lot of commotion, about nine cars and a state patrol car and these guys holding a cow (deer)."
Oregon State Police confirmed Tuesday that it responded to a reported illegal shooting of an elk in the Sunriver area on Saturday.
The report said a herd of elk traveled onto Forest Service lands near Spring River Road, an area open to hunting. Several hunters went to the area and one reportedly shot a female elk in an area where shooting is not permitted.
Trevor Ryall tells NewsChannel 21 he was surprised to learn that it’s legal to hunt on a small strip of land between Spring River Road and the Spring River/Deschutes River.
“I am not against responsible hunting,” he said. “I enjoy game meat, and have many friends that are hunters.” But he said there are now many homes, the road, a restaurant and hiking, biking and boating “within close proximity” to where the hunting occurred.
Deschutes County established “no-shooting” zones near subdivisions many years ago, but Ryall said, “I think Deschutes County needs to revisit the hunting boundaries in and around South Deschutes County and update them to ensure better safety for the residents and to account for the growth that is occurring.”
Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone told NewsChannel 21 the county can't regulate federal land. He said if neighbors wish to turn the property into a "no-shooting" zone, they can send a request to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Another area resident voiced similar concerns, and claimed that “hunters on bikes” were pushing a large herd near Sunriver Airport onto federal land so they could be hunted. The resident shared photos of hunting activity near her home and Sunriver's paved walking paths.
With the Deschutes River just south of the homes, they describe it as a recreational area.
"My neighbor is 80, and she walks through here frequently with her friends," another resident said. "And it's just concerning that ODFW and the Forest Service would allow this hunting."
The hunting issue was not on the agenda of a La Pine meeting Tuesday evening that was scheduled to discuss a community survey on environment and natural resources. But it brought out a full house.
Residents, hunters and Commissioner DeBone expressed their views about what happened.
One resident said, “The point is, we live in that neighborhood, and I'm not going to be fearful for my wife and my kids and my grandkids and my dog and my neighbor, for the benefit of a few people who decided that they were going to have this gang bang on what was clearly a planned thing.”
A hunter told the crowd: “You realize it’s hunting season. It’s not my job as a hunter, who has my license, to be put in a position where I have to inform these other people who we don't know. It's not my job. You should know.”
DeBone told NewsChannel 21 afterward, “There needs to be a partnership with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Forest Service and Deschutes County residents to figure out, okay, what's the culture of this situation? What are the ethics of hunting? It sounds like it was kind of a peninsula situation, and a couple got shot, but it was right in people's view, and by their yards.”
DeBone said he open to getting a roundtable together of the various parties, to talk through the issue. He told fellow county commissioners Wednesday morning he hopes it can happen before the end of the year.
DeBone spoke to the issues and that potential roundtable to his colleagues, saying it likely would involve the Forest Service, ODFW, the Oregon Hunters Association, area residents and the county.
"Is there a way to sign it better, have a new no-shooting opportunity?" he said, noting that such issues were addressed 20 or so years ago in the south county, involving duck hunters shooting across the river.