Ashland's gardening nightmare

ABOVE: Rhianna Simes waters her plot in the community garden near Southern Oregon Universtiy. — Photo by Orville Hector | Daily Tidings

FRONT: A submitted photo shows deer congregating fearlessly in the front yard of a Beach Street home in March. The woodland creatures have been more of a problem than usual this summer as gardeners try fruitlessly to keep them away from vegetables and flowers.

Alex Golden and Kai Masterson have a rather Mad Max sense of the future, thinking about a time to come when there might not be cars, trucks, oil or food shipments.

They sat in earnest discussion at the far end of Southern Oregon University's community garden Monday night, confronting a more immediate problem: deer.

The deer are busting into the garden, chomping down on every fresh young plant.

The impetus for Golden and Masterson to get involved with community gardening is thinking futuristically. Thinking about a future without oil. Thinking about a future in which communities are forced to depend on their own food supplies.

"I think that in the future a farmer will be the most important person," Masterson said.

With that in mind, he and Golden have put their attention on learning how to garden and to experiment with different crops and growing methods.

For now, though, their attention is focused on the present. And the present problem involves deer. Those sweet, shy, swift, liquid-eyed mammals.

The deer are hopping over the fences into the garden across from the university, where some 20 to 30 people have growing plots. Most everyone has experienced some degree of agricultural angst.

"It's like trying to patch a paper bag," said Golden, gesturing at the fences.

"Everybody's been devastated. Some people depend on their plots for food," said Rhianna Simes, who started most of her plants from seed only to recently find all the blooms razed. "It's a big investment of time.

"We've been laughing about it around here that we're going to start a support group because it's been so prevalent," she said.

Simes works at Ray's Garden Center, where she said they keep on hand a number of plants that don't appeal to deer. Those plants include thyme, oregano, yarrow, lavender, rosemary, Echinacea, black-eyed Susans, heather, potentilla, Oregon grape, mint, poppies and heavenly bamboo.

She said she's tried the strategy of hiding her special plants under and around the undesirable plants because deer are browsers and tend to move on after encountering something they don't like. In general, she said, they also don't like aromatic plants or those with textured or hairy foliage.

Golden and Masterson desperately wanted to know about the plants that repel deer. They're trying to organize two mending-fence work parties for Saturday &

one at 9 a.m. and one at 5 p.m. &

and urge the public to come and help, pointing out the tremendous asset a community garden is to the area.

"There's lots of lamenters and few go-getters," commented Golden, adding that almost everyone has to replant their plots.

Every year, Rosemary Stussy, a wildlife biologist at Oregon Fish and Wildlife, writes an animal nuisance report. And every year, deer, along with cougars, bears and raccoons, are consistently on the top of the report. Of the 134 deer complaints in Jackson County last year, there were 16 from Ashland.

This year there have already been 13 deer complaints from Ashland. One man called and asked, "What are my options? They eat my garden every year." Although deer ravaging local gardens is a widespread complaint, most of the reports Stussy receives involve sick, injured or dead deer.

Outside of Ashland, they're easy enough to deal with, Stussy said.

"Ideally, outside city limits, you get your gun out and shoot it," she said. "Realistically, (within city limits), sometimes only harassment will do it &

slingshots, shining bright lights, jumping up and down and yelling."

Stussy said she herself uses Liquid Fence, a repellent available at the Grange Co-op. It's stinky stuff, so she cautions against using it on a food crop or on the house.

Another option is the 8-foot-high fence, which is too high for deer to hop.

Ultimately, though, people are responsible for the deer problem because they pet and feed the deer, Stussy said.

The deer have lost their natural fear of both people and predators. Fish and Wildlife officers do not attempt to relocate them because they've lost their ability to survive in the wild and because tame deer often have diseases easily transmitted to wild deer. One of those diseases is adenovirus, a highly contagious and fatal disease that causes internal hemorrhaging.

A Jacksonville woman called Stussy last year, crying, because she had five dead dear in her yard. They were all deer she had befriended, named and fed. They were all bleeding from their mouths and rears before dying. Adenovirus spreads quickly when humans feed deer, because they catch it by feeding at the same source and spreading it among themselves.

Feeding deer not only helps spread diseases among the deer, but they become so tame they think gardens are their natural territory, they become cougar bait and they are easily hit by cars as they wander through the streets.

"It's tragic," Stussy said.

Stussy's not the only one who hears about deer problems. Ashland's planning department gets a constant barrage of calls about deer.

"They're pretty athletic, it's tough to keep them out," said Alan Hanks, a permit manager.

While Stussy recommends an 8-foot-high fence, which she says is fine outside city limits, Hanks clarified what fence heights are allowed within city limits.

If the fences are put up 6 feet away from the side property boundaries, and 10 feet from the back property line, there are no restrictions to fence height, he said.

However, fences closer to the property boundaries are allowed a maximum height of 6 and a half feet high, he said.

— — Rhianna Simes waters her plot in the SOU community garden. Photos by Orville Hector | Daily Tidings

He said some people specifically fence just the garden area, while others also erect a roof. Some people extend some posts higher than the allotted fence height at the end of the fences and make strings from post to post. Others find that black netting work fine.

"Dogs do well," said Hanks, adding that they raise a ruckus and scare the deer.

Black netting works well for local resident Bob Quigley, whose garden was ravaged several years ago. About 60 percent of his garden was destroyed.

"They like the succulent new growth &

they're licking their chops right now," said Quigley, explaining that open areas like cleared, logged or burned areas sprouting new growth attract deer. "When an area gets overgrown, they leave &

there's no food."

His experience involved a doe who came around with a fawn and nibbled a bit. The following year a spiked buck, which Quigley thinks was the same fawn remembering its way back to a food source, came around. He'd chase him out of the garden and the young buck would head to the front-yard apple tree. As soon as Quigley turned his back, he'd find the muncher cavalierly back in the garden.

"It's a big game to them," he said. "So I finally built a fence &

fast. If I'd have let him have another day, I'd have had nothing."

Another Quigley tip is to put tobacco and Cajun pepper in little white tobacco bags and hang them around the garden. The smell irritates the deer's nostrils and they leave the garden alone. He also noted that Shady Cove outlawed petting and feeding deer because they became such a nuisance.

Stussy said she senses that because more people are moving to the area, "We gotta learn how to live with wildlife."

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