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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."

Central Oregon / Crook County / Environment / Government-politics / News / Top Stories
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Noah Chast

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



  1. So, I wonder what the survey of critters found for the big cats, the lack of browse refreshment from fire and logging operations, and tourists on utvs, atvs, and such as. But hey, No worries, Creepy China Joe Obiden will fix everything!!!!

        1. They have been here way longer than ODFW will admit. Just because they don’t have a tracker on them does not mean they don’t exist. I personally have seen them up near Mt. Bachelor a few times several years ago. Other people I know have also seen them in this same area several times. A good friend of mine had another sighting just a couple of months ago in the same area while on a snowmobile tour.
          Do you honestly think OR7 or whatever they called him didn’t pass through here on his way to Southern Oregon and Northern california on his way from Idaho??? If he did, why would you believe others (non tagged) didn’t follow??

    1. – you do realize that removal of the apex predators (yea, there are a few left, but their numbers are a historical joke) results in more deer disease – unfortunately, everything responsible for the decline is some form of human behavior – can’t take the easy way out and try to blame the exact organisms that used to keep the population healthy – its that damned two legged invasive species – bummer huh?

      1. All the Westside used to be the historical wintering grounds for Mule Deer, as well as the East side of town. I can remember picking up a pickup load of shed deer antlers out at the Skeleton cave area without a lot of trouble. The thing is, the deer population in The Sinks, Oatman flats, Derrick cave area, Black Hills, Connley hills, etc are all below “normal” for the last several years. But, the population being fed in town has increase stupidly fast, that is where the disease gets passed around. Plus with all the browse in town why would the deer migrate anyway? But hey, No worries, Creepy China Joe Obiden will fix everything!!!!

      2. We are the Apex predator. Name anything that a wolves or cougar can do better for elk and deer populations vs. humans. Next you are probably going to spout of that fairy-tale about wolves and Yellowstone. Don’t believe the propaganda.

      3. Fewer apex predators makes up a small part of the problem. The biggest issue is disruption of migratory pathways by people. Then they have to stay in place and disease can run rampant. Cougars help make Maintain a healthy population because they only kill what they will eat and manage their own numbers by territorialism. Wolves decimate bug game population. The goal to return wolf population to the same as 100 years ago while elk populations are 20% if 100 years ago will wipe ek from Oregon.

  2. That’s good enough reason to stop the building of 100s of miles of trails.Everywhere they’ve built west of town.They pushed the deer and elk out.

      1. Perhaps you should look up the impact of the frequency of humans in a particular area and how it
        drives the deer and elk out of their natural habitat you stoned ass pedaler….

      2. That’s wrong. Elk and deer are disturbed and move away from sounds that are unfamiliar. We ride through in mountain bikes especially in increasing numbers and big game will leave

    1. Couldn’t be the 1000s of dear killed by obese hillbilly gun kooks each year. It’s those evil satanic antifa mt bikers!!!! ROTFLMAO!!!! You should’ve stayed in!!!!!

  3. Predators for one……
    And this:
    137 Ochoco Unit One buck with visible antler Oct. 2 – Oct. 13 2,255 (Tags) 4,060 (applicants)
    2,255 Tags, a forked buck doesn’t stand a chance
    and again, poor management by the ODFW. Which isn’t a surprise……

    1. Yes Century01. When you want to know who is responsible for the decline in big game and apex predators just look in the mirror. Just because resident dozens in neighhang around because they are fed doesn’t mean the populations are sizable or healthy. Two decades ago the elk and deer numbers around Bend were markedly bigger and healthy

  4. The so called experts should cite the increase of predators and poor management by ODFW.
    This isn’t news, this is something that has been slowly taking place for quite a few years. That’s what happens when the Gov’t agency that is in charge of our wildlife is more concerned about revenue, and not the animals…

  5. What we need to do is close all mountain bike trails, ohv, atv, etc. Oh wait they (USFS) can’t even manage camping on our public lands. Another year same story as last year. How much do we pay the professionals to tell us the same thing? Look at other areas without human disturbance and tell us the data? The real problem predators; bears, cougars, wolves, coyotes, and poachers.

  6. I grew up back East and the amount of deer is ridiculous. My family still lives there in PA and due to the abundance of deer you are able to get multiple tags and you always fill them. The reason why…….little to no predators. No cougars or wolves. It would be nice to have some honest experts for a change.

  7. According to ODFW there are over 6000 cougars in Oregon. According to ODFW cougars kill over 1 deer a week. Do the math. Then look up the numbers for wolves.

    1. mine neither, 6’ critter fence, 2’ hotwire above that, but they still jump the chain link gate to the patio, go up on the deck, and get in to the garden in the only short spot in 600’ of fencing lol

  8. If the animals can’t survive human activity and meddling it is because they cannot adapt fast enough. It is too bad, but humans are increasing faster than them, so bye bye mule deer.

    Central Oregon is growing fast. What used to be the small town of Prineville will likely have a population of 50,000 in a few years the way it is growing now. Refugees from Bend, Redmond and who knows where else are coming in droves. They can’t build houses fast enough for the influx here as they are bought up before they are finished. There do seem to be plenty of sagerats still around, though.

  9. That’s a very good point. Perhaps it’s time for another moratorium on hunting deer and elk like they did in the 70’s to allow the population to recover. Of course that would mean the state of Oregon wouldn’t collect all that money,so fat chance that’ll happen. They are nothing but a bunch of hypocrits.

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