It’s indisputable. Mule deer populations are decreasing through the vast majority of the West. Hunters and the ODFW agree something needs to be done to address the problem. However, not everyone agrees on the causes of the problem – or a solution.

Wildlife management specialists have known that mule deer numbers have been on the decline for many years. Even in 1976, Utah State University sponsored a symposium to tackle the problem and a number of wildlife management luminaries spoke. Not surprisingly, they did not reach a conclusion or even a way to address the problem. Numbers keep declining.

This is a serious problem in Wallowa County. It dates back into the 1960s. Records seem to indicate that 1959 was a high-water mark for mule deer populations. What has changed since then? General seasons disappeared long ago, so tags are drawn for virtually every hunt.

Just a few examples: According to ODFW surveys, the Wenaha hunting unit had more than 3000 estimated total deer population in 2006 and steadily declined since. The Sled Springs Unit boasts an estimated population of 3750 deer with an ODFW management objective of 11,000. Yet, it issues 1925 tags for about 260 bucks – the same amount of tags the agency issued in 2006 when the unit boasted an estimated population of 9100 deer. Why is that?

Local hunting guide, James Nash, has watched this phenomenon for years – since he was a boy hunting with his dad and listening to stories of Wallowa County teeming with mule deer.

Nash didn’t indulge in sentimental nostalgia, longing for the good old days. He started asking questions of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. He talked to local old-timers. He read books and examined studies. Then he took action.

Nash set up a meeting of concerned citizens at the Range Rider Saloon in Enterprise. About 20 concerned citizens attended. A half-dozen of these citizens were hunting guides who noticed the same problems.

Jim Akenson, president of the Oregon Hunters Association attended the meeting. He’d heard the same complaints from fellow hunters. No one disagreed with the fact that mule deer populations are rapidly decreasing and something needs to be done or risk the entire local “muley” population – not to mention that of much of the rest of the west.

Retired ODFW District Biologist, Vic Coggins, has a few ideas about the problem, as do others. The Chieftain will run a multi-part series during December to clarify the problems and suggested solutions. Hunting and wildlife compose a large slice of life in Wallowa County. The mule deer deserve answers.

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