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Officials say more deer are roaming Baker City streets and yards
By Terri Harber
The appearance of a deer inside the Rite Aid store in August caused a huge sensation around the community and online after a photo showed up on Facebook.
But the continuing proliferation of deer around Baker City concerns officials -- especially as the animals’ annual mating season starts.
Baker County Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr. lives in the city and has noticed a lot of deer roaming, particularly along the Powder River and the freeway underpass.
He said his wife, Cammy, told him recently about spotting a herd of eight near Main Street.
“They’re all over,” he said.
Police Chief Wyn Lohner has noticed more deer in the city over time as well. Tuesday morning he spotted a herd of five deer while he was driving around.
The animals haven’t been causing residents major problems though he remembers a buck by the Quail Ridge Golf Course that caused neighbors headaches several years ago.
The real issue, Lohner said, is that some people feed the deer and thus make them habitual visitors.
“They only used to come down into the city during winter,” Lohner said. “But they seemed to be educating their young to come down.
“Now, several generations are conditioned to come in to the city and hang out all year long.”
During the mating season, known as “the rut,” bucks are more likely to threaten dogs and people in a quest to “become dominant,” Lohner said. “That’s a cause for concern.”
Breeding begins at the end of October and can continue until early December, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Another worry is that so many deer roaming the city also will attract their predators, particularly cougars, Lohner said.
One fortunate thing is that because speed limits in town are relatively low, there’s a lower risk of drivers colliding with deer, something that happens regularly on some local highways.
Hunting for deer or other animals isn’t allowed within city limits, according to Oregon Revised Statutes, Lohner emphasized.
ORS 498.158 states that “no person shall hunt or trap any wildlife within the boundaries of any city, public park, cemetery or on any school lands.”
Major exceptions are noted in subsections of the code, specifically when:
“(a) The governing body or other agency that administers the affairs of the city, public park or school, after notice and hearing, authorizes such hunting or trapping by ordinance or resolution; and
“(b) The State Fish and Wildlife Commission, after notice and hearing, determines that such hunting or trapping would not adversely affect public safety or unreasonably interfere with other authorized uses of such lands.”
More deer, more problems?
Brian Ratliff, the district wildlife biologist with ODFW in Baker City, said there has been a gradual but visible upswing in the number of deer roaming Baker City during the past decade or so.
The state agency “highly discourages people from feeding deer,” he said.
People shouldn’t worry specifically about deer carrying diseased ticks. Ratliff pointed out that all mammals carry ticks.
Taking overall precautions against being bitten is the best way to avoid Lyme disease and other illnesses and infections passed to humans through ticks.
When faced with a frightening situation, nine times out of 10 “a deer will flee,” Ratliff said.
During the fall rut is when bucks become “especially aggressive,” he said.
Deer also might fight when they believe their offspring are in danger.
Mule deer are the most common species in Eastern Oregon. They have large ears, white backsides and tails that are partially white but black on the end. Their antlers form forks as they grow.
Food sources for deer that have decided to become city dwellers include trees, shrubs and the contents of bird feeders. They enjoy succulents, but will eat a wide variety of plant materials, Ratliff said.
Feeding deer not only encourages the animals to stay in town, but it can hamper their ability to forage for food in the wild.
Those natural food sources are more nutritious for young deer.