Deer, elk, eagles and lots of people. It’s a cocktail that doesn’t usually mix well.
Wildlife and rural development are not mutually exclusive. They can clash. And this week Deschutes County commissioners are scheduled to discuss how the county might strike a balance.
The issue: It’s been at least two decades since the county updated its records of what wildlife live where. And they have changed and grown. In particular the county has been looking at mule deer, elk and eagles. (Mule deer look like whitetail deer but have a black tip on their tail, a white rump and big ears. Whitetail deer have a brown rump.)
The existing mule deer winter range is about 315,000 acres in Deschutes County. Biologists say it’s actually closer to 500,000 acres. And the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is worried because the mule deer population is in decline, down about 10% a year.
The elk winter range covers about 51,000 acres now. Biologists say it should be about 411,000 acres. ODFW says the elk population is growing.
Then there is eagle habitat — both bald and golden. The existing inventory says there are 5 bald eagle nests and 25 golden eagle nests. Biologists say both are actually over 100. And the recommended buffer for golden eagles has expanded from a quarter of a mile to 2 miles.
Let’s say the county decides to move ahead with the formal process of expanding one of these ranges or some mix of them. The county would then have some decisions to make about what sort of activities might be limited. For instance, the ODFW recommends that guest ranches, outdoor commercial events like wedding venues, solar farms, wind farms, RV park areas and some other uses be prohibited in deer and elk winter ranges. Rural housing would continue to be a permitted use.
If the county moves ahead, could it then limit what people could do on their land? It could. But Measure 49 would entitle property owners to compensation, so that is a clear incentive for the county not to do that.
Should the county move forward and formally expand these wildlife areas? Should it be looking to limit activities in those places? Or should it just leave it alone? You can email commissioners at firstname.lastname@example.org.