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Deschutes County working on update to 30-year-old wildlife zones, to better protect mule deer habitat

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- With more people moving into Deschutes County, some animal habitats are being threatened.

Among the most common species are mule deer, which county Senior Planner Tanya Saltzman said are "declining at a relatively rapid rate," as NewsChannel 21 reported recently.

According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the mule deer population decreased about 40% near Metolius and about 30% near Paulina in a recent three-year testing period.

According to Saltzman, the county's current Wildlife Area Combining Zone for mule deer hasn't been updated since the 1992. In collaboration with the ODFW, a study conducted last year identified land uses that adversely affect wildlife.

To combat the issue of what ODFW calls "high human use and disturbance," Saltzman said ODFW recommends that certain uses be prohibited or limited to protect the mule deer winter range habitats.

Loud noises, and physical blockages such as fences are a couple examples Saltzman said qualifies as high human use and disturbance.

Currently, Saltzman said they are evaluating zoning codes and updating the comprehensive plan to expand the borders for designated mule deer habitat.

The update proposes a 60% increase, making the WACZ a little over 500,000 acres.

Although mule deer can always be spotted outside the combing zone, Saltzman points out that it doesn't necessarily mean they're in their significant deer habitat, and the objective is to protect just that.

“We’re proposing the zoning will expand, and then within that, there’s rules," Saltzman said.

There's still much to be hashed out in the drafting, mapping and amendment process, but Saltzman said there will be rules around fencing.

The project started a year ago, and Saltzman said it’s been fostering support, but not without challenge.

“Constantly trying to achieve a balance, so you’re achieving a balance of conservation of these species," Saltzman said. "These species are often why people move here. It’s part of the habitat, it’s part of the beauty of the area. But then there's also recognizing property rights. You know, the zoning code allows people to do certain things with their properties, and there are expectations that people have.”

A pilot project outlining proposed revised zoning for mule deer winter range will be presented to county commissioners in July. There will also be public information sessions that Saltzman encourages people to attend during the summer. More information is available here:

Article Topic Follows: Wildlife

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Bola Gbadebo

Bola Gbadebo is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Bola here.


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