Mule deer on private property in the Wallowa Lake Village area

Mule deer in Wallowa Lake village and the Wallowa Lake State Park are tame and very habituated to people. This has prompted concern by residents and business owners that hunting in the area, much of which is densely populated, is not very sportsman-like, will reduce the tourist attraction that the deer provide, and may cause injury to people, as well as damaging property.

In the 2019 ODFW hunting regulations, a quarter-mile-wide no-hunting buffer around the perimeter of Wallowa Lake was removed. Residents and business owners have expressed concern that hunting in this area of private residences would endanger human safety, and that given the tame nature of the deer, was unsportsmanlike.

Residents and business owners in the Wallowa Lake Village area expressed strong concerns about ODFW’s omission of regulations that prohibited deer hunting in their residential neighborhoods. “The deer here are a tourist attraction, worth a lot to Wallowa County,” Susan Esvelt said. “They walk right up to people. These aren’t wild deer. This isn’t hunting. It isn’t sportsmanlike.” Beyond the deer, residents also worried about hunting in such a highly populated area. “I especially worry about safety of myself and my dog when we are out walking,” said Jill Zundel. Zundel, who worked for the Wiggins family at Wallowa Lake Lodge as a teenager, now spends summer and early fall in the family’s long-time cabin along the Wallowa River. “I don’t think anyone should hunt these deer. They’re like pets,” she said.

At the Scenic Meadows RV Park, where go-carts occupy the track during the summer, owner Greg Jarman said that the area should remain a no hunting zone. “The whole idea of hunting here is a little crazy,” he said. “ODFW should have left it as it was.” Jarman said that he had not encountered any hunters, or heard any shots. “But there doesn’t seem to be as many deer here as there used to be,” he noted.

Wallowa County Commissioners can designate the area a no hunting zone. “We have received some complaints from residents,” said Commissioner John Hillock. “We hope that hunters are responsible, and don’t hunt where they shouldn’t. But if people want us to do something, we’ll talk about it.”

Wallowa Lake State Park superintendent Mac Freeborn said that he had not heard of the rule change. But because hunting is not permitted in Oregon State Parks, the change would have little effect on the area he manages.

By way of explanation for the regulation change, Shane Talley of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said that because the vast majority of the land around the lake is private property, the ODFW removed the quarter-mile-wide no-hunting buffer in the interest of simplification.

Now, private landowners can decide whether to let individuals hunt on their property — or not.

As Talley warned, the area is not free range for hunting and hunters are responsible for hunting only on the land on which they have permission to hunt.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” he said. It’s up to hunters to know where they are.”

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