Volunteers are planning to fan out across town on April 5 for a spring count of the urban deer population after a fall count revealed that at least 187 of the animals call Ashland home.

Volunteers are planning to fan out across town on April 5 for a spring count of the urban deer population after a fall count revealed that at least 187 of the animals call Ashland home.

Volunteers will be assigned to different sectors in town and will count between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. That will reduce the chance of duplicate counting and ensure that most, if not all, of Ashland is covered.

An October 2011 count was Ashland's first attempt to tally deer. Scientists, residents and city officials hope the deer counts will help them understand how many deer are in town and whether the population is changing.

Volunteers are only able to count the deer they see. With many deer hidden away in backyards and dense vegetation, an uncertain number remain uncounted.

Residents are divided on their views of deer. Some like seeing the graceful animals around town, while others say they gobble up landscaping and gardens, collide with vehicles and windows, and attack dogs, especially during fawning season.

Some residents would like the Ashland City Council to take some type of action — from banning the feeding of deer to allowing an urban hunt with bows and arrows.

The City Council is scheduled to decide on April 17 whether to direct city staff to draft a deer-feeding ban ordinance for future consideration.

Feelings run strong on the deer issue, as revealed by email salvos that have gone back and forth during the past few weeks.

Debate erupted amid the members of a deer issue emailing list for Ashland. The list has almost 100 members and includes residents, local scientists, city officials and deer count volunteers.

Resident Helga Motley said in an email that she previously fed deer fruit and vegetables after seeing how thin a doe became after giving birth to twins.

"A law prohibiting that wouldn't have stopped me," she said.

Motley said deer are running short on vegetation in town and have turned to eating ivy and other plants they used to avoid. She recommended the city of Ashland or U.S. Forest Service do controlled burns in the forested hills above town. That would cause fresh undergrowth to sprout, which would feed the deer and possibly lure them out of town.

A long-time advocate of urban deer hunts, resident Don Stone said in an email that a ban on the feeding of deer would be unenforceable. The City Council recently gave the nod to higher deer fences in Ashland, but Stone said that is an expense residents shouldn't have to bear.

"Properly trained and vetted bow hunters can thin the herd to manageable levels within a few months," Stone said, noting that many other cities have conducted urban deer hunts.

Stone said bow hunters could shoot from elevated stands so that their arrows would fly downward. Hunters would use the venison themselves or donate it to local food banks.

Several residents on the email mailing list argued against urban deer hunts.

Resident Jon Kimball said in an email that there would be too much risk of personal injury and property damage if hunters pursued deer in town.

"This is a ridiculous proposal and one that the Council should reject out of hand. Have any of those proposing the idea ever seen a half-crazed wounded animal careening off in a panic?" Kimball asked.

Kimball said a more sensible approach would be to continue gathering data through deer counts, determine the extent and location of the problem and carefully weigh alternative solutions.

"In the meantime, let's take some reasonable intermediate steps, such as warning residents and tourists alike of the possible dangers and perhaps ban the feeding of deer," Kimball said.

One person on the email list, who didn't give his full name, said deer counting is apparently being done to satisfy those who want to kill deer. He suggested that volunteers disrupt the count by not showing up, or by sabotaging the effort with bogus numbers.

Whether or not a controlled hunt within city limits is a viable option or not, resident Todd Kemp said in an email that the city government does need to address the growing deer population.

He said he has been challenged several times in his yard by deer feeding on his landscaping and garden, and fears someone will be mauled by a deer.

Abundant deer in town are also likely to draw predators such as cougars into Ashland, Kemp said.

"These animals are not pets. They are still semi-wild animals and letting them reproduce here in town is not a responsible, long-term approach," he said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.