The black-tailed deer family that crosses our yard most days was coming through again Monday just as I learned about Oregon Senate Bill 373, a proposal for a program to rid participating cities of “urban deer” by killing them and giving the meat to food banks.
This little doe and her relatives needn’t worry. First, they hang out well outside the city limits of Albany. Motor vehicles are their main threat as they cross county roads. More important, the bill prompts many unresolved questions. And even if it advances, any effort to cull the numbers of Oregon’s urban deer is years away.
SB 373 was sponsored by two Republican legislators from far northeastern Oregon, Sen. Bill Hansell of Athena and Rep. Greg Barreto of Cove. After it was printed, Sen. Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, signed on as a cosponsor.
The bill would require the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to write regulations for a pilot program under which cities could ask for their resident deer populations to be thinned. From Hansell, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee heard why he wrote the bill. He spoke at a public hearing in Salem on Feb.13.
The city of Joseph measures a mere 0.8 by 0.8 miles, Hansell said, and has counted 150 deer within the town limits. The deer have become a nuisance, and the mayor asked for the legislature’s help. Other Oregon cities also have deer problems. Hansell named John Day, Ashland and parts of Portland, among others.
ODFW is neutral on the bill but voiced concerns. The bill would add to its workload. More important, it’s very difficult to get rid of deer in cities, where the animals live mostly on private property and the use of firearms is illegal, though under the requested regulations cities might make an exception for contract hunters. Even then, rifle fire and dead animals in back yards would not sit well in residential neighborhoods.
Trapping deer doesn’t usually work. Hitting them with tranquilizer darts and then killing them also has problems. The animals don’t lie down on the spot; instead they wander off and, again, may end up on private property. Moreover, food banks would not accept meat contaminated by tranquilizers, even if various legal complications inherent in wild game donations could be overcome. (The bill would prohibit killing deer with injections.)
ODFW suggested that cities would be better off making it illegal to feed wildlife within their limits. Indeed that is one of the requirements if a city wanted to reduce the numbers of urban deer in a program of the kind envisioned by the bill. Wildlife officials also suggested putting up deer fences and giving advice to city residents on not planting anything in their yards that deer like to eat.
My impression from watching the hearing online is that the committee was sympathetic to the plight of cities with too many deer, but that if the legislature acts on anything at all, it will look different from this bill. (hh)