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Natural World: The trouble with people and deer 

Mule deer buck in the backyard—not a good idea.
  • Mule deer buck in the backyard—not a good idea.
I

f you take the time to read this column today you may not enjoy it; some of it is about misfortune and despair—but you can give it a happy ending.

I'm going to make a prophecy—though not quite as innocuous as Roger Tory Peterson's of 1936, when he predicted the cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis, would some day populate the U.S.

The cattle egret, which had arrived in South America earlier—presumably after flying across the Atlantic Ocean in a storm, or by island-hopping from Africa—would indeed colonize the U.S., five short years after Peterson's prediction. In 1941, they arrived in Florida, and I observed the first known one reported in Oregon in 1965 on Sauvie Island, near Portland.

My prediction, meanwhile, does not involve birds, but instead, people and cougars. Within the next 10 years, I believe someone is going to be killed by a cougar in the Bend/Sisters area, and I fear it may be a child. This will take place mainly because of the well-meaning people who are oblivious to the dangers they are creating by continually feeding mule deer and attracting them to their backyards. It will be worse this year because of the Milli Fire, which caused the utter destruction of thousands of acres of prime deer summer range.

Everything deer eat west of Sisters has been altered or destroyed by that fire—which means they'll have to go back east to people's backyards and irrigated fields, or keep going west to find food. Back in the '50s and '60s, through the use of bells and colored neck-collars placed on mule deer, biologists from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Bend office learned that mule deer from this area did indeed make it all the way over the Cascades to Prospect, returning to Central Oregon in winter.

But those deer that come back to Bend and Sisters will become a noticeable nuisance, plundering kitchen gardens and landscaping, and if the cougar follow them it will make living around human habitation exciting.

Deer are already a pain in the you-know-what in Sisters—so much so the city passed an ordinance against feeding deer within the city limits. I believe county commissioners should pass a similar law, and why our state legislators haven't already done so is, in my opinion, beyond reason.

W

alt Paul, who lived near Camp Polk, showed me my first cougar cache several years ago after he found where a cougar had killed a deer and dragged it off to bury it for a later meal. The deer was killed almost in Walt's backyard—and he didn't feed deer. When the cougar came back to get its deer, it was killed by the Oregom Department of Fish amd Wildlife, "just in case..."

"Mountain lion attacks bicyclist along trail," blared a headline in a California newspaper a few years back. That same headline could be in our newspapers before long unless people stop inviting cougar to live underfoot.

Over the last two years, cougar have killed or maimed people in Colorado, California, Idaho and Canada with alarming regularity; some were hiking, others on bicycles, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out there are a lot of people recreating in cougar habitat all around Central Oregon.

Over the past two years, cougar sightings have increased around Central Oregon, many of them too close to homes for comfort. Need we be reminded that a hungry cougar—especially one with kittens—is a very bold and pernicious predator?

The math of cougar, deer and normal chances of contact between humans and cougar has been well worked out by wildlife biologists, so opening the season on cougar to cut down contact with humans won't gain anything, except to make cougar-killers happy.

It's been said that a cougar will kill two or three deer a week. If the cougar is a mom with kittens, the need for prey rises exponentially, and if a mule deer is not readily available, guess what...? Yes, it will be one of our dogs, horses, llamas, goats, sheep, house cats—or worst of all, an innocent child. Right in the middle of it will be ODFW, who will get the "blame."

I know of several families with children who feed deer to keep them coming into their backyards. That is sheer stupidity! Feed stores sell "deer chow" by the sack, and I know of a family spending about $65 a month to keep the deer around. They think it's fun, and the deer probably think they've died and gone to heaven. But wildlife biologists will tell you what the mule deer are eating isn't good for them, and it will not be much fun when the deer run out of food some cold winter day with snow a foot deep.

Deer, unlike birds, are large, unpredictable game animals that (normally) migrate between wintering habitat in the sagebrush and juniper to summer feeding grounds in the mountains. And cougar wander with them.

As Uncle Sam and Smokey Bear posters say, "IT'S UP TO YOU!" Please! STOP feeding deer and prove my predictions wrong.


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