PORTLAND – Ashland Mayor John Stromberg says he was sitting at an outdoor cafe a few years ago when he saw a doe and two fawns stop at the edge of a street and look both ways at the traffic.
They were not the slightest bit concerned.
“When the traffic clears she takes her fawns across the street – this is in the heart of downtown – and I thought ‘OK, we have a deer problem,’ ” he said.
The southern Oregon city known for its Shakespeare festival is home to what’s become a more noticeable population of deer, many of whom have lost their fear of humans while acquiring a taste for the food they are fed. In the past decade, cars have collided with deer more than 250 times.
The Ashland City Council has taken a couple steps to address the issue. First, it allowed homeowners to build 8-foot-high deer fences around their yards. And, this week, the council unanimously approved an ordinance that bans people from feeding deer and other wild animals. Violators will get a written notice and have two days to comply. If they don’t, a fine with fees could reach $435.
The actions are something of a middle ground between two camps in one of the more liberal towns in Oregon.
“Some people see deer as spiritual entities and other people see them as vermin,” Stromberg said Friday.
Michael Parker, a Southern Oregon University biology professor who organized a deer count last fall, estimates there are between 280 and 340 deer within city limits.
Another census scheduled for spring was canceled after a volunteer threatened to sabotage the count out of fear it would be used to justify a deer kill, which some bow hunters have offered to do for free. The situation has since calmed down and a new volunteer count is set for autumn.
Councilwoman Carol Voisin said she hopes news of the ban will educate people about the dangers of feeding deer and that will, in turn, stop deer from congregating in the parts of town where food is readily available. Disease is more easily spread when deer are in unnatural clusters, and human food is not good for their digestive systems.
“You shouldn’t be feeding wildlife, period,” she said. “You’re hurting them by feeding them, and people don’t know that.”