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C.O. mule deer numbers on the decline; experts cite human population issues

Traffic, fences, recreation, disease, poaching -- all have an impact

Update: Adding video, comments from ODFW, Ochoco National Forest

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The numbers of deer and elk in Central Oregon are on the decline, and experts who track the animals say the region's continued growth in human population is a prime reason why. 

According to Sara Gregory, a wildlife habitat biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, mule deer population near Metolius decreased close to 40% and the population near Paulina dropped nearly 30% during the most recent three-year testing period.

Elk populations have remained stagnant, but elk calf numbers are down as well.

"We should all be concerned, really,” Gregory said. 

Monty Gregg, forest wildlife biologist with the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland, said there are multiple causes for the decline, many of which stemming from human population growth.

"The level of use by people on the land can offset the mule deer, just from a disturbance perspective,” Gregg said.

The human disturbances include an increase of traffic, fences, recreation, disease and poaching.

Both Gregg and Gregory explained that deer typically migrate north during the warmer seasons, and back south through the High Desert during the winter.

With more of these human obstacles, fewer deer make it through.

However, Central Oregon isn't alone in this issue.

"Name a Western state where deer occur, and you will find population declines,” Gregory said. 

Gregory said any increase of population has an effect on all wildlife.

"The roads that we build, the fences that we build, the houses that we construct, the recreation that we enjoy -- it has an impact on every critter you can imagine,” Gregory said. 

She said one problem the average person can do to help with the issue is to stop feeding deer, which spreads disease.

"Feeding deer is a problem in a lot of neighborhoods, so I recommend that people not feed big game,” Gregory said.

"We have a lot of tools in the tool box for managing deer, so we can play a role in helping them too."

Gregory's biggest recommendation is to be aware and considerate of the environment around you.

"We all have an impact, and just think about that as we go about our daily lives and what we do around here,” Gregory said.

“The animals live here, too."

Article Topic Follows: Wildlife
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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.

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