A clear plan for dealing with excessive deer populations for Joseph and many other towns across the state may finally emerge from the State Senate next year.
Dist. 29 State Sen. Bill Hansell has informed Joseph Mayor Dennis Sands that he intends to introduce a legislative counsel amendment — 1066 — during the upcoming session that begins Feb. 1, 2017, to address issues related to excessive deer populations. Hansell’s bill requires the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to institute a pilot program for deer population control that would allow a city to petition the state’s Wildlife Commission to remove deer if the ODFW determined they constituted a public nuisance.
According to Hansell, implementation of the pilot program would begin in early 2018.
The quest for clarity on the matter has been a long struggle for Sands and the Joseph council.
Sands said that he asked ODFW about the problem earlier this year, the result being a letter from the department saying they would pick up dead deer located in the city limits. The following month Sands received a letter stating that the department had reversed course and the property owner where the deer died had the responsibility of disposal. Currently, the city’s public works crew dispose of deer remains.
Then in May, an admittedly irritated Sands fired off copies of the two ODFW letters to Hansell and Dist. 58 State Rep. Greg Baretto, along with a note asking the two legislators to speak to the ODFW about who bore the responsibility for disposing of dead deer as well as noting problems with deer population control. The letter stated that the deer population in town was estimated at nearly 150. Joseph’s city limits cover less than a square mile.
During the council’s Nov. 3 meeting Sands passed out copies of the draft bill and is seeking the public’s reactions to the proposal. The majority of the meeting audience said they thought the deer population already was past the point of a public nuisance and hoped for the bill’s quick passage.
Sen. Hansell said he was happy to help.
“I view my position as a state senator as an opportunity to help my constituents ... the problem is widespread throughout the state, and this bill gives an option to cities to humanely euthanize deer if they choose to do so — it’s an option, not a requirement.”
Sands said he is relieved to finally be making some headway.
“We’ll have to study (the draft bill) some more and get some public input on it, but it’s a step to put some pressure on the ODFW to control their wildlife,” Sands said.
Branden Pursinger of Sen. Hansell’s office in Salem said that Hansell spoke to the ODFW and learned that a number of Oregon’s cities have similar deer population problems.
In an effort to kill two birds with one stone, the Hansell has suggested that removed deer be given to local food banks. The ODFW dispatch deer rather than relocate them because the animals tend to find their way back to their home turf.
The bill also specifies that cities pass an ordinance forbidding the feeding or baiting of deer within city limits. Joseph has no such ordinance.
Also, Section 1 of the draft bill specifies that cities can sell hide and antlers from any dispatched deer to an authorized buyer in order to pay for removal of the animals. ODFW charges a fee for trapping and dispatching the deer. Cities also are required to pay the cutting and wrapping fees for any dispatched deer going to food banks.
The next step in the draft bill process is the approval of the bill by the City Council. The council has until approximately Christmas to render approval or suggest changes. If all goes well, Hansell will introduce the bill during the next legislative assembly in February. From there it will go to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee for consideration and approval before going out to the Senate floor.