There was a time when Joan Alles would rush to get her camera when she saw a deer or ground squirrels outside her house in Awbrey Butte.
“I was enthralled to see a deer once a week,” Alles said.
But the quaint natural novelty has evolved into unceasing burden for Alles and some of her neighbors, who say animal populations have grown out of control. In the winter, the deer eat through most of the pine trees in her garden. When the seasons change and the ground squirrels arrive, they chew through irrigation lines. This year, they created a sinkhole in Alles’ driveway.
The destruction, neighbors feel, isn’t random. They believe the population spikes and the problems they’ve created were caused by one neighbor consistently feeding the animals. It has gotten so bad that the neighbors asked the Bend City Council to ban feeding wildlife.
“It’s not ‘black and white’ that we’re having these problems because of her feeding them,” Alles said of her neighbor’s habit. “But it’s so obvious that we didn’t have any of these issues 3 to 4 years ago.”
The neighbor blamed for the population problem declined to comment or share her full name, but her actions were noted in a letter sent last week to the City Council urging a feeding ban.
The letter cited concerns over how the surge in population could enable diseases to be spread, the damage that is being caused from the burrowing and how an increase in prey could lead to a spike in the presence of predators.
“We, the undersigned, are among one such group of neighbors adversely affected by someone who feeds the deer and rodents daily, multiple times per day, year-round,” the letter stated. “Our objections have not prevailed on the individual to stop this destructive behavior. We have heard of other similar situations in other neighborhoods. Please help us!”
The problem has evolved over several years. What was once a small band of deer meandering through the neighborhood in the winter has grown to groups of 10s and 20s, Alles said.
When the snow melts, her husband, Bill Alles, often spends his days fixing whatever the ground squirrels have decided to destroy. Sometimes, it’s the broken irrigation lines they nibbled on the night before. Most of the time, he is just filling in the burrows under the driveway — a seemingly futile exercise, his wife said.
They always come back to dig them again.
This year, they burrowed so deep under their driveway the Alles’ had to fill a sinkhole. That at least wasn’t as bad as their neighbor’s situation, they said, who had to spend $7,000 reinforcing a failing retaining wall.
“There are just more of them than there are of us,” Bill Alles said.
The plea from Awbrey Butte reflects a perennial issue raised by other property owners in Bend and around the county on and off for years. While the city from time to time receives an email or a comment about feeding deer, the issue hasn’t been a consistent community priority in Bend, said Anne Aurand, the city’s communications director.
Some communities across the state, like Sisters and Sunriver, have passed ordinances after neighbors reflected similar complaints.
The issue has also garnered statewide attention, with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife issuing a pilot program last year to allow cities to reduce deer populations in areas where high densities of deer are causing damage and health and safety concerns.
But there is no formal policy on feeding wildlife, though they do their best to discourage the process, said Oregon State Police Lt. Craig Heuberger, who works in the Fish and Wildlife division.
“It’s more of an educational piece for us,” Heuberger said.
Public safety, animal dependency and disease are the primary issues that arise from feeding wild animals, said Heuberger. Animals that are consistently fed will continue to come back and become dependent on humans, hampering their ability to forage for food on their own.
Congregations of wild animals can also attract more predators to urban areas and spread diseases, Heuberger said.
“But there’s nothing we can actually enforce,” Heuberger said.
Alles recognizes the issues may seem trivial to some, and that because most of the neighborhood is retired, they may have more time to pay attention to it.
But for some neighbors, there isn’t much of an alternative.
“It’s a matter of education and cooperation,” said Jim Moody, who also signed the letter to the City Council. “On one hand you say it should be illegal to feed the animals, but there really is no good counter argument that says ‘Yeah, it’s good to feed the animals.’”
For others, like Judith Aikins, the issue is about the long-term effects the feeding will have on the animals’ health and the impact to natural habitat.
“I think anyone who cares about wildlife should care,” she said. “It’s a very unnatural situation.”
But for now, the neighbors know the problem won’t go away on its own.
“I mean, there are three generations of these guys running around our yard,” Joan Alles said, pointing to one as it scurried over some rocks.
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, firstname.lastname@example.org