Why are mule deer at risk? July 11, 2016 Oregon

Oregon Deer Population, Management News and Information Archive

Information Sheet: Why are mule deer at risk?  

What’s the problem?

Mule deer, that iconic species of the west, are losing their place here and in other western states.  Their habitat has become increasingly fragmented, and the wildlife corridors that connect their habitat patches are shrinking, choking them off from migration to their seasonal ranges.

 This isn’t the only threat to mule deer: climate change, changes in forest forage, poaching (illegal harvest), disease, predation and stress from human disturbance

Have been growing rapidly in the past 20 years, compounding the obstacles to their survival. Despite years of work by ODFW (Mule Deer Initiative) to restore habitat and reduce predation, the two populations of deer near Bend are at less than 50 percent of the targeted goals for their sustainability.  This is consistent with other populations in the west.

The community at large doesn’t know this, and people who come to Central Oregon to play and live assume that deer will always be part of the landscape. But we are leaving no room for them.  Rapid development, extension of roads and trails into the mountains, forests and rangelands are shrinking the areas they need to survive.  Climate change is changing the environment. At some point there is a tipping point. How much more habitat can deer lose?

“If deer are threatened, why are there so many in my neighborhood? “

Mule deer in our yards does not indicate their abundance, but reflects their increased inability to migrate.

These “resident deer” have a lower life expectancy than migratory deer from animal/vehicle collisions, accumulated stress (higher levels of cortisol), human disturbance, fences, insufficient nutrition and predation by unleashed dogs and cougars.

“Why don’t they just stay off the roads?”

Mule deer and some other species need to migrate over large expanses of undeveloped land. All of the reasons for migration are not known, but in Central Oregon, deer have followed the same migration routes from their winter ranges near Fort Rock and farther south into Christmas Valley to their spring ranges in the higher sage steppe country of the eastern Cascades for many years. Now, with the growing volume in traffic and increased speeding, many are killed in animal vehicle collisions trying to cross city streets, Highway 97, Highway 20 and on feeder roads. Other barriers include fencing, yard hazards and barriers to water and forage.

The statistics are surprising. According to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), from 2009-2015 there were 36 collisions per mile or over 1400 collisions per year on state maintained highways and roads.  In 2014 there were almost 7,000 calls reporting wildlife down along the heavily trafficked corridors, and many collisions are not reported.  Highway 97 from north of Sisters to South of Bend is a “hot spot” traffic corridor.

In the first six months of 2016, ODOT reports that over 200 deer were killed on 97, 20, and 126. During the fall migration back to winter ranges, the number of collisions is often higher. This period follows the summer months when up to 23 thousand tourists a day recreate in the area. So the total for 2016 can be expected to be significantly higher.

Traffic on county roads has greatly increased between 2014-2016 (as much as 44% in some neighborhoods along South Century Drive) and feeder roads. Residents along the South Century Drive corridor frequently witness animal/vehicle collisions.  Often the animals are not killed on impact, leaving them to die painful deaths until law enforcement can arrive and end their suffering.  A similar scenario occurs west of 97 along China Hat, Knott and other two lane roads in rural areas in the county.

According to statistics provided by Deschutes County, from January to June 2016, 158 deer and 7 elk were killed in vehicle collisions.  Many of the fatalities were does and fawns, the group that is most needed for population sustainability.

Within the Bend city limits, there were over 150 animal collisions in 2015. The cost to remove them is over $20,000 per year, not including the costs for law enforcement or the costs to humans in property damage and injuries. This is at the low end for costs compared to estimates from other state and national agencies.

The hopeful news is that these animal/vehicle collisions can be greatly reduced, and the costs associated with them as well. According to the Mule Deer Working Group’s publication, “ Mule Deer and Movement Barriers,” (Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, 2015) a collision with a large animal occurs every 2-4 minutes, costs $7-14 billion annually, or $6,617 per animal. This includes property damage, loss of hunting value, human injury and human deaths (200 per year nationally).

What can we do to share the environment?

The solutions for keeping mule deer and other wildlife here begin with community awareness that there is an urgent threat to this species and others who are connected to them in a complex food web.  Deciding to place a high value on mule deer, which as an “ambassador species” will attract support for other wildlife conservation issues, is the beginning of developing solutions.

Are we willing to declare Deschutes County Wildlife Friendly?

How to become deer friendly:

  • Support the budgets and work of public agencies, especially for more wildlife crossings.  They reduce collisions by 80 – 90 percent.

  • Support conservation groups that are working to restore habitat and preserve wildlife corridors. Become informed.

  • Attend public hearings on proposed developments and ask for preservation of wildlife habitat, connecting corridors connecting corridors between habitats and green belts of undeveloped land.

  • Attend wildlife information events with expert speakers and panelists. Become informed.

  • Drive defensively and slowly, especially at dawn and dusk.  Deer travel in groups, watch for more than one. Fawns often follow does.

  • Remove yard hazards that can injure or kill deer: hammocks, strings of lights, tomato baskets, unleashed dogs and wildlife unfriendly fencing.

  • Don’t feed deer or other wildlife. They can’t digest the food, and their continued presence in our yards can attract predators like cougars.

Please forward this to your contacts and invite them

to become “Deer Friendly.”

This information is resourced from Protect Animal Migration (PAM) a citizens’ advocacy group supporting the habitat and safe migration of mule deer between habitat patches.  PAM is a project of the Great Old Broads for the Wilderness and works collaboratively with other conservation groups and public agencies in community outreach and education.

For more information, questions, or to request a speaker for your neighborhood group, please email protectanimalmigration@gmail.com, attention Suzanne Linford.  

These articles have been reviewed for relevance and content.  Some links to the original article may no longer be active.

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