Deschutes County is updating 30-year-old wildlife habitats to better protect mule deer habitat

BEND, Oregon (KTVZ) — With more people moving to Deschutes County, some animal habitats are under threat.

One of the most common species is mule deer, which senior planner Tanya Saltzman said are “declining at a relatively rapid rate,” such as News channel 21 recently reported

According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the mule deer population has declined by about 40% near Metolius and about 30% near Paulina in a recent three-year testing period.

According to Saltzman, the current combination zone of the mule deer game area has not been updated since 1992. In collaboration with the ODFW, a study conducted last year identified land use that negatively impacts wildlife.

To address the issue of what ODFW calls “high human use and disturbance,” Saltzman said ODFW recommends banning or restricting certain uses to protect the mule deer’s habitats during the winter.

Loud noises and physical blocks like fences are a few examples that Saltzman says qualify as high human use and disturbance.

At this time, Saltzman said they are evaluating zoning codes and updating the comprehensive plan to expand the boundaries for designated habitat for mule deer.

The update proposes a 60% increase, bringing the WACZ to just over 500,000 hectares.

While mule deer can always be spotted outside the comb zone, Saltzman points out that this doesn’t necessarily mean they are in their important deer habitat, and the goal is to protect just that.

“We’re proposing that the zoning be expanded, and within that there are rules,” Saltzman said.

Much remains to be worked out in the drafting, mapping and modification process, but Saltzman said there will be rules around fencing.

The project started a year ago and Saltzman said it has received support, but not without its challenges.

“Continually trying to strike a balance, so you achieve a balance between preserving these species,” Saltzman said. “These species are often the reason people move here. It’s part of the habitat, it’s part of the beauty of the area. But then there’s also the recognition of property rights. You know, the zoning plan sets people up there are certain things to do with their property, and there are expectations that people have.”

A pilot project outlining the proposed revised zoning for the winter range of mule deer will be presented to provincial commissioners in July. There will also be public information sessions in the summer that Saltzman encourages people to attend. More information is available here: https://www.deschutes.org/cd/page/wildlife-inventory-update

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