The Baker City Council is talking about deer.

This is quite a different thing than shooting deer.

The latter might happen. It might not.

We think it’s reasonable, though, for councilors to kickstart a community conversation. It’s difficult, after all, for councilors to gauge whether Baker City has a deer “problem” — a subjective matter, to be sure — unless they get residents thinking and commenting about the issue.

There seems to be little doubt that the number of deer that live year-round in town has grown over the past couple decades. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) doesn’t count deer within the city limits, but there’s ample anecdotal evidence to support the claim of an increasing population.

And ODFW experts tell us that deer herds in a city create potential dangers to the human population — aggressive does attacking people, and deer attracting cougars and other predators, to name two.

Which is not to say these are chronic problems. There have been no confirmed cases of deer hurting people in town, and although an occasional cougar roams into the city, it’s far from a regular occurrence.

Deer definitely damage residents’ landscaping. That’s not a safety issue but it is an economic one. There are ways to dissuade deer with fences, sprays and plants the animals don’t savor, but none of these is anything like foolproof.

The city isn’t looking to eradicate deer. That’s not feasible in any case, biologists say. But a new state law does allow cities to apply to ODFW for permits allowing authorized people — possibly police; it would not involve a hunting free-for-all — to try to reduce the deer population. Biologists say trapping deer and moving them elsewhere is ineffective and often fatal for the animals, so that’s not a plausible alternative.

This isn’t a choice between having deer in town or not having them. The question is whether Baker City should consider trimming its deer density to reduce the likelihood of problems — some of them quite serious — that go along with having wildlife in a non-wild setting. We think it’s a wise idea, and one worth the public discussion that will happen before our elected officials make a decision.

From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.

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