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Deschutes County commissioners, ODFW biologist talk about widespread mule deer decline, causes

(Update: Adding video, comments from ODFW, commissioners)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Deschutes County commissioners got a presentation Wednesday on the declining mule deer population from an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist.

Commissioners Patti Adair and Tony DeBone recently surprised many on the issue when they stopped the county's work on a plan to protect mule deer habitat with an overlay zone. They expressed concern about its impact on private property rights.

"Again, this isn't a situation unique to Central Oregon," Andrew Walch, ODFW's district wildlife biologist, told the board. "They're declining through much of their range throughout the West, and certainly most of Eastern Oregon. What are the factors? Well, there's no one factor."

Walch explained that stressors on the deer include drought, roadkill, disease,  and predators like cougars and wolves. Disturbances from seasonal closures to roads and some land are also a factor.

"Through our current research over the last eight years for the area west of Bend here, Metolius and the Upper Deschutes Wildlife Management units, the adult does that we have collared out there have a 70% annual survival rate," Walch said. "That is the lowest in in eastern Oregon in our mule deer herds."

Commissioner Phil Chang addressed the threat to the mule deer population from poaching. 

"In our region, are people poaching and male and female deer?" Chang said. "I mean, it's just -- is it pretty indiscriminate or ... "

Walch replied, "That's a good question, commissioner, it can. It could certainly be both."

ODFW has anti-poaching initiatives including new positions and an anti-poaching coordinator. And last year the Oregon Department of Justice hired its  first anti-poaching prosecutor. 

As for what county residents need to know about protecting the deer population, commissioners were reminded that wildlife shouldn't be fed by people.

Commissioner Patti Adair said, "A couple of years ago, you know, when we had like five feet of snow that just would never melt, I'm wondering, Were the deer here ever fed?"

Walch asked, 'Like artificial feeding, right?'

Adair answered, "Like throwing out hay bales."

"Not by us," Walch replied. "I'm sure, you know, private citizens were. But you know, a lot of times, that does more harm than good on deer that aren't used to whatever you're putting out for them."

 ODFW said they are in the process of updating their plan for managing mule deer. And Commissioner Chang said the meeting Wednesday does not restart the update of the habitat overlay zone.

Article Topic Follows: Wildlife

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Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.


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