Deer attacks vex Ashland residents

"Oh deer."

The message written on a boarded-up window at the high-end downtown clothing store Nimbus early this week is a sentiment many people share in the city, where dozens of deer roam.

During this summer's fawning season, which ends late this month, does have continued to cause problems in Ashland. One crashed through Nimbus' window Saturday and several have attacked people walking their dogs in recent weeks.

"I do think something should be done and I think a lot of people that I know feel that way also," said Ashland resident Doug MacDonell, who has faced two aggressive deer this summer while walking his dogs through town.

MacDonell and a handful of other residents are calling on officials to reduce the deer population in the city, but the Parks and Recreation Department and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife say there's little that can be done, short of euthanizing a large number of the deer.

"We're just going to keep educating people not to feed the wildlife," said Mark Vargas, wildlife biologist with the ODFW's Rogue Watershed District Office.

"Part of the concern is that deer in towns like Ashland have lost their fear of humans, and if they're not afraid of humans anymore, they're going to come closer and there's going to be more of these encounters. In reality, we need to be hazing the deer, by chasing them or spraying them with garden hoses."

Vargas and Don Robertson, the city's parks director, said their agencies have no plans to reduce the deer population.

Both said they have received about the same amount of complaints about aggressive deer as in previous years.

"To me, from what I've observed here in the park, it seems about the same as it's been for the past few years," Robertson said. "But I'm sure if I was attacked, I would think it was worse."

ODFW could issue the City Council a kill permit to euthanize deer. Birth control darts are another option, but they are expensive and difficult to manage in a place where deer aren't isolated and can travel between the forest and the city, Vargas said.

"It's sinfully expensive and it only works in an area where you don't have a source population, such as gated communities or fenced-in areas," he said. "In areas around here, and, in particular, Ashland, there are hills that are just infested with deer, so it would never work on a feasible basis."

Relocating deer doesn't usually work either, because deer are difficult to catch and if they are captured, they can become so stressed that they die, Vargas said. Also, relocated deer spread disease and have a higher chance of being eaten by predators, he said.

"And you've just passed on the problem to another area," Vargas said.

MacDonell said he doesn't want the deer to be euthanized, but he would like to see the city explore other options, such as birth control darts.

"I don't think anybody wants to see them killed, but I think a lot of people would like to see them gone," he said. "We have too many deer and the situation when they're fawning has gotten kind of ridiculous. I think we should feel safe to be able to walk our dogs around town."

Does can become aggressive when they believe their fawns are threatened. Deer sometimes mistake dogs for predators, such as coyotes, and can try to stomp the dogs and, occasionally, their owners. It's rare for dogs or people to be killed in deer attacks, but injuries are fairly common, Vargas said.

The doe that bolted through Nimbus' window at about 11 a.m. Saturday likely was frightened by something and didn't see the glass in the window, he said.

"It sounds like something spooked it and it didn't see a reflection and thought it was a clear path," Vargas said.

Demaris McNamara, a Nimbus sales associate, said the doe didn't appear to be acting aggressively. After it crashed through the window, it ran toward the park, she said.

"I screamed when she hit the window, because I thought it was a car," she said. "It was such an explosive sound it didn't occur to me that it could be a deer."

The deer left no blood behind and didn't appear to have been seriously injured, McNamara said.

She thinks it was scared by all of the cars and people in the Plaza for the Fourth of July weekend. The deer caused several hundred dollars in damage to the store, she said.

McNamara, who grew up in Ashland, said she's seen the deer problem grow worse over the years.

"I have mixed feelings about the deer being in Ashland," she said. "Humans have continued to encroach on their natural habitat, but deer are producing at such a high rate. What is the solution to protect them and their habitat and also keep people and buildings safe?"

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or

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