By Scott Hammers

The Bulletin

Volunteers with the Oregon Hunters Association spent Wednesday morning repairing a section of a wildlife fence south of Bend along U.S. Highway 97.

Last week, the fence took a direct hit from a car that went off the road, knocking down a short section on the east side of the highway near Lava Butte.

Roughly 8 feet tall, the fence runs along both sides of the highway along a 4-mile stretch between Lava Butte and Sunriver that has historically been a well-used deer migration route and a hot spot for vehicle versus deer collisions. The fencing guides deer and other animals toward two underpasses, one near the Lava Lands Visitors Center, and one about a mile south of Cottonwood Road, the northern entrance to Sunriver.

Since its completion in 2012, reported accidents involving deer or elk have dropped almost 90 percent.

Project coordinator Eric Brown said earlier this year, the Bend Chapter of the Oregon Hunters’ Association volunteered to take over maintenance duties along the deer fence, periodically monitoring the area for any openings or trees that may have fallen on the fence.

The partnership with the Oregon Hunters Association is the only one of its kind in the state, according to Cidney Bowman, wildlife passage coordinator for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The construction of the fence was a joint project of ODOT, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Deschutes National Forest, she said, but because none of those agencies is really in the fence maintenance business, repair projects aren’t always a top priority. Having association volunteers available to look for and fix breaches in the fence makes the fence and underpasses much more effective, she said. A former state trooper and Central Oregon resident since the 1950s, Brown said the fence has been one of the few positives in a decades-long decline in the area’s mule deer population.

Increased numbers of residents, tourists, and vehicle trips by both have made deer and elk migration far riskier for the animals than was the case in past years.

Brown said it’s not clear if the fence has helped or will help reverse declining populations, but its certainly reduced dangerous and costly collisions between deer and drivers. Taking over maintenance of the fence is one of many initiatives the Oregon Hunters Association has taken on to improve habitat for game animals around the state, including tree thinning projects near Sisters, fence repairs in the Ochocos to keep cattle out of deer range, and the restoration of a meadow near Crescent where elk often give birth to their young.

The area between Lava Butte and Surviver is just one short section of a migratory corridor that extends nearly 100 miles south along U.S. Highway 97, Bowman said. Additional fencing and underpasses are being planned as part of future highway improvement projects. A planned underpass in the Gilchrist/Crescent area is at the top of the agency’s list, she said, and is currently scheduled to be built in 2019.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com

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