Spring deer count canceled abruptly

Organizers of a spring deer count that was scheduled for Thursday have canceled it but have given few reasons why.

The fall and spring deer counts were meant to establish a baseline number to help residents, scientists and city officials understand how many deer are in town and whether the population is changing. Organizers had hoped to continue the effort for years. Last fall, volunteers counted 187 deer in Ashland.

In a short email announcement sent at noon Friday by Ashland City Councilor and count volunteer Carol Voisin, organizers did not offer many details on the reasons for the cancellation.

"Due to unforeseen logistical complications, the deer census described in a recent Ashland Daily Tidings article (Friday, March 30) has been canceled," the statement said. The statement said the planned volunteer orientation meeting on Tuesday will not take place, nor will the Thursday count.

Volunteers had planned to divide Ashland up into sectors and count deer between 7:30 and 8 a.m. to minimize duplicate counting.

The statement sent by organizers said individuals could request more information about the cancellation by sending an email to deerashland@gmail.com.

"A more detailed explanation will be sent should you want that explanation," the statement said.

Voisin said the local scientists involved in the deer count would together draft a more thorough explanation for people who sent email requests for more information about the cancellation.

In a phone interview, Southern Oregon University Biology Department Chairman Michael Parker, who designed the deer count study, did not want to elaborate on the reasons for the cancellation.

The Tidings article on the planned deer count detailed how debate had erupted among residents about what to do — if anything — about Ashland's urban deer population.

Arguments ranged from continuing to allow residents to feed deer to allowing bow hunters to thin the animals.

One resident suggested that the deer counts were being done to satisfy those who want to kill deer. He suggested that volunteers disrupt the count by not showing up, or by sabotaging the effort with bogus numbers.

Mayor John Stromberg said he doesn't give any credence to the idea that the deer count would somehow have been used to justify deer killing. He said the local scientists involved in the count would likely be upset by such a claim.

"I think the deer count was a great idea. The more we understand how the deer herd operates, the better chance we have to figure out how to coexist," Stromberg said.

During an April 17 meeting, City Council is scheduled to take up the issue of whether to ban the feeding of deer. It is not considering any plans to begin killing deer.

Resident Don Stone, who thinks bow hunters should cull deer in Ashland, said he was disappointed to hear that the spring deer count had been canceled.

"It would have been interesting to see if we are overrun with deer. My impression is we are, but we don't have any numbers," Stone said.

He said the urban deer discussion has become too political and emotional.

Resident Helga Motley, who enjoys seeing deer in town, said she thought the spring deer count would have provided useful statistics, although it would make better sense to count deer after the fawning season in late spring and early summer.

"The whole issue of killing or not killing got pretty heated," Motley said.

Local resident Gayle Wilson, who thinks deer could be tranquilized by dart gun and relocated to the wild, said she participated in the fall 2011 count and had been looking forward to the follow-up spring count.

Resident Marilyn Briggs said she would like to see the deer count reinstated.

"What harm is a scientific count? I'm enormously disappointed," Briggs said.

Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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