Dealing with the ‘town deer’

Posted on November 27th in News


Deer population not surveyed

by Samantha White
Burns Times-Herald

A number of deer can be found foraging for food in Burns and Hines. (Photo by RANDY PARKS)

A number of deer can be found foraging for food in Burns and Hines. (Photo by RANDY PARKS)

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) District Wildlife Biologist Rod Klus said there is a percentage of people who like that deer live within the cities of Burns and Hines, but there is probably an equal percentage of people who don’t. And, yet,  others remain neutral on the subject. Regardless of how you may feel about the four-legged foragers, their presence within the cities is hard to ignore.

Klus said abundant forage (such as green lawns, bountiful gardens and apple trees) draws deer to the cities in the summertime. Most deer decide to leave once the snow covers the ground. But, because some people started feeding and caring for them, a portion of the deer decided to stay. And this is how the population of deer living within the city got started.

Klus said, like all populations, the deer population in the cities fluctuates, depending on the group’s rates of mortality and production. For example, if mortality is low and production is high, the number of deer will increase.

Klus said ODFW does not survey the cities’ deer population, so it is hard to say for certain whether the population has increased. However, he suspects that there are probably more deer living in the cities today than there were 10 years ago. But he said he doesn’t know how this year’s numbers compare with last year’s.

Klus said, in general, the population of deer living within the cities is doing well, as deer are protected from predators, and they have an abundance of food. However, he warned that a high concentration of deer in a small area can contribute to the spread of disease.

Klus said some of the deer living in Burns and Hines have disease issues. For example, some deer have been infected with Adenovirus Hemorrhagic Disease (AHD) of deer.

AHD of deer

According to ODFW’s website, the AHD virus of deer was first identified in California in 1994. Chronic symptoms of the virus include ulcers and abscesses in the mouth and throat, while acute symptoms include rapid or open-mouth breathing, foaming or drooling at the mouth, diarrhea (possibly bloody), weakness, and copious amounts of fluid in the body cavity. Death can occur within 3-5 days from the time the deer is exposed to the virus.

Klus said the virus causes internal bleeding, and infected deer can bleed out internally within days.

According to the ODFW website, the virus is transmitted by direct contact between deer, contact with bodily fluids, and possibly through airborne routes.

However, Klus said AHD of deer is species specific. In other words, people don’t need to worry about the virus spreading to humans or other animals.

According to the website, there are no known health risks associated with eating meat from a deer infected with AHD, but experts recommend thoroughly cooking meat from deer that are harvested from an infected area. ODFW also suggests that people wear rubber gloves when handling the carcasses.

There is no treatment for individual deer infected with AHD, but monitoring, proper carcass disposal and avoiding moving infected live deer can prevent the virus from spreading to new areas.

Klus said ODFW certainly does not want the virus to spread to wild deer.

Klus said ODFW is “not set up to collect town deer,” but the department works with the cities of Burns and Hines to address issues concerning deer that are sick or deceased. Klus said deer that are suffering and have no chance of recovering will be euthanized.

Although there have been some disease issues, Klus said most deer living within the cities are healthy. He explained that the population would decrease if the deer were unhealthy.

People can avoid contributing to the spread of AHD by abstaining from feeding deer, as feed or water stations can ease the spread of the virus.

“There are very few cases where feeding deer is the appropriate thing to do,” Klus said.

Don’t feed the deer

In addition to easing the spread of disease, feeding deer can actually cause them to starve to death.

Klus explained that deer’s digestive systems change with the seasons, as their bodies are designed to process the foods that would naturally be available to them.

Feeding deer foods that are too rich for their seasonal diets (such as alfalfa in the winter) can lead to dehydration and diarrhea, which can eventually cause starvation.

“Basically, [the deer] are eating all they want, but starving to death,” Klus said.

Feeding deer can also contribute to the development of aggressive behavior toward dogs.

Klus explained that feeding deer, especially from the hand, can cause them to lose their fear of humans. But deer, especially does, remain suspicious of dogs because they see them as a threat to their fawns. As a result, Klus said a person could be out walking his or her dog, and a doe would not pay any attention to the person, but have a “close eye” on the dog. If the doe sees the dog as a threat, it can be bad news for “Fido.”

“An adult doe in good shape can beat the heck out of a good-sized dog,” Klus said.

Breaking the cycle

Klus said, regardless of whether you love or hate having deer around, it’s important to be considerate of your neighbors who may not want them in their backyard.

“If you don’t want deer around, don’t do anything to encourage them,” he said. “Feeding them keeps them around,” he added, stating that people can help break the cycle of deer inhabiting the cities by abstaining from feeding them.

He added that people can discourage deer by “shooing them away” and  reminding them that they are not welcome.

Klus also suggested growing deer-resistant plants and building fences at least six feet in height. He said, although deer are capable of jumping a six-foot fence, they will probably avoid it because it is dangerous for them.

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