At least 186 deer call Ashland home, according to the town's first attempt to count the animals.

That figure will serve as a baseline for future fall and spring counts that could help scientists, residents and city officials figure out whether the urban deer population is increasing.

City officials haven't proposed any plans to reduce the number of deer in town, but they do want to have a better understanding of what many residents think is a growing problem.

About 100 volunteers walked Ashland's neighborhoods for a half hour at dawn on Thursday.

Southern Oregon University biology professor Michael Parker, who helped organize the count, said the town was divided into 63 sections so that volunteers wouldn't cover overlapping areas.

On Friday, he had gathered up 60 of 63 data cards filled out by volunteer counters.

With three cards yet to be added in, the deer tally stood at 186 animals, Parker said. He said volunteers probably missed some deer, especially if they were bedded down or hidden in backyards.

Deer appear to be concentrated in the wooded hills above Siskiyou Boulevard, near Lithia Park and around North Mountain Park, which abuts Bear Creek, Parker said. "The deer were pretty spotty in terms of distribution," he said.

As a class project, students in his vertebrate natural history class will be preparing a map showing deer concentrations in Ashland, he said.

Some cities with abundant deer populations have hired professionals to count the animals, Parker said.

"No one has done it with citizens and a volunteer effort like this that I know of," he said.

Parker hopes to raise almost $6,000 through donations and grants to have an Idaho-based company fly over Ashland with an infrared sensor this winter and count deer. Its numbers could be compared against the tally from Thursday's effort, Parker said.

Getting a ground-level deer count meant volunteers had to rise before dawn so they could begin walking around sunrise at 7:20 a.m. With the moon still lighting the early morning sky, resident Marian Crumme said curiosity and a personal interest in Ashland's deer population prompted her to join the counting effort.

"I've given up on any sort of gardening. They're a nuisance," said Crumme, who lives near Glenwood Park — a popular hangout spot for does and their fawns.

Crumme was part of one group of about two-dozen residents and students who gathered Thursday morning in the SOU Science Building's "dead bird room."

Surrounded by stuffed birds, microscopes and the mounted heads of deer, elk and antelope, the volunteers picked up highlighted maps, then scattered out to nearby neighborhoods.

As he walked along, SOU junior Todd Granum, president of the university's biology club, pointed out a downspout drain that is home to an owl. Angry blue jays squawked into the drain, trying to drive the predator away.

Granum said quite a few deer live on campus near student dorms.

"They don't bother us," he said, although he noted there were rumors that a deer had jumped through a ground-level dorm window.

Striding past hillside dorms on Indiana Street, Granum said, "There are usually deer on that hillside, but not this morning."

As Granum continued through the neighborhood in the hills above SOU, evidence soon emerged of residents' ongoing war with deer.

Many homes had 6- to 12-foot-high deer fences surrounding their yards and gardens.

It also became clear why this neighborhood, like so many in Ashland, is prime habitat for the animals.

Homes had secluded backyards with lush vegetation, while scattered empty lots beckoned with grass and bushes. Houses on appropriately named Woodland Drive backed onto madrone-filled woods that provide shelter and cover for deer.

Circling back to Indiana Street, Granum passed a spot where he used to startle a young buck living by SOU's Cedar Hall.

"He'd scare me as much as I'd scare him," he said.

Finishing his half-hour walk, Granum hadn't seen any deer. But it was clear that at least one deer called the neighborhood home.

Bending over damp earth next to the sidewalk, Granum pointed out tell-tale pointy markings.

"There are fresh deer tracks right here," he said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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