By Aaron West
If you’re walking down Ochoco Avenue in Prineville and notice streamers and balloons in anyone’s yard, it’s not an invitation to a party — especially if you’re a deer.
The deer population inside Prineville’s city limits has some irritated residents trying out colorful techniques for scaring the animals out of their neighborhoods, especially now that the City Council this week decided not to pursue fining people who feed the deer. Techniques to deter deer include, but aren’t limited to, CDs hanging from trees, pinwheels, streamers and balloons attached to gates, and swimming pools leaned against fences.
“We wouldn’t have our property looking trashy like this if we had a choice,” said Mary Pruitt, who approached the council in July about a deer problem she described as distressing. “The lengths to what we’ve gone through — we’ve aesthetically changed everything. It looks totally ridiculous and it embarrasses me to do this. I’ve got blue twine all over the top of my fence. What if I want to put my house up for sale?”
Pruitt had approached councilors in July about a deer problem she said is out of control and unsafe. Besides destroying her garden, there are big bucks that hang around her neighborhood that aren’t easily frightened off, she said, and she and her neighbors are concerned about safety.
“You worry about them hurting or killing pets, and there’s also disease,” said Ruth McKenzie, Pruitt’s neighbor. “I mean it’s not Zika, but Lyme disease can spread.”
Pruitt suggested the council come up with a way to punish people who help create the problem by feeding the deer, which the city and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife discourage. She recommended a program like the one Ashland put in place in March, which slaps deer feeders with a $435 fine.
Despite the concerns — about the deer population or the distasteful deer deterrent — Police Chief Dale Cummins told city councilors Tuesday that trying to punish people who feed the deer wouldn’t be productive, even though he acknowledges there are a lot of them.
“There’s quite a few deer and some pretty good size bucks,” he told The Bulletin on Friday. “We’re going to put out a pamphlet to the neighborhoods that educates people about how it’s harmful for the deer to feed them because it domesticates them, but we don’t believe that an ordinance and enforcement would be a good first step.”
Beyond deer destroying people’s gardens, it’s the vehicle-deer collisions that are the real safety issue, for both deer and people. Greg Jackle, a biologist with ODFW, said the department gets calls “quite often” about deer injured by vehicles, and the agency’s policy is to euthanize the animal if it won’t survive an injury. Injuries mostly come from vehicles, although with archery season starting this weekend, it’s not out of the ordinary to see deer and other animals hurt by arrows that didn’t kill them.
“We make a good effort to get the arrow out of them and help them if we can,” he said.
As for the animal-vehicle collisions, Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Peter Murphy said Prineville isn’t identified as a hot spot. According to department statistics, 261 animal-vehicle collisions involving deer and elk were recorded between Jan. 1, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2015, in Crook County, with 32 of those inside Prineville city limits. In Deschutes County, where 1,013 collisions happened during that time period, parts of U.S. Highway 97 are identified as high-risk hot spot segments, where there were 36 to 84 collisions per square mile in those two years. In Crook County, there are only medium and medium-high collision areas.
There’s no official count of how many deer call Prineville home. But even though ODFW doesn’t keep track, Jackle said he knows the animals are out there, especially because of the complaints. Jackle said complaints about deer are common at any ODFW office east of the Cascades, and the agency loans out devices called Critter Getters that can scare deer away with a high-pitched noise.
In Prineville, Jackle said people feeding deer combined with new development keeps the resident deer population up. For example, there were about 30 deer living where the St. Charles hospital was built in 2015 north of the city, and those animals have now moved closer to town.
“Those deer didn’t die; they just got squeezed out. So when that keeps happening, deer move to town,” he said. “We deal with a lot of complaints, but there’s people that like them, too.”
Over at the Juniper Haven Cemetery, Manager Al Bidiman said more than 20 deer roam the grounds, eating grass and alfalfa. At least 15 cars a day come through the cemetery just to watch the deer, he said, and there are more deer fans than deer haters from what he’s observed.
“We’ve got quite a few deer up here,” he said. “A whole lot more people like them than don’t. There’s occasional complaints, and a couple times a year we might lose one or two that get hit by cars.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7829, email@example.com