What can we say for the Mule Deer? Reflections on human footprints in Central Oregon

Out on the trail, we feel lucky to spot the ubiquitous yet ever majestic Mule Deer. She bends her ear to our footsteps and unintentional but inevitable rustling of tree branches as we lean in to memorialize the moment. This is why we live here; encounters like this remind us of why we have chosen this rugged spot on the Earth to call home. And yet we continue to lay down the human footprint year after year, and the Mule Deer population dwindles.  

Photo by Brent McGregor

Photo by Brent McGregor

How can this be? We see them everywhere, they delicately consume our gardens, they meander through our parking lots and tease our canine friends at the fence line. Occasionally, they migrate alongside us on the roadways and meet unfortunate ends. Their apparent abundance is only a symptom of habitat loss. They have nowhere else to go, and this mingling of wildlife habitat with urban development has caused the Mule Deer population to decline more than 50% since 1960 (Science Findings, Issue 140).  

The moments we share with the Mule Deer on trails and in the forest are quickly becoming the stuff of nostalgia as we pave over sacred ground. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, from 2005 to 2013, nearly half of all known Mule Deer mortality was due to vehicles and illegal harvest (Presentation by Sara Gregory, ODFW). Destruction of habitat is another leading cause of population decline, and it is important to consider that the growing city of Bend and desirable destination towns are squarely situated in important deer migration routes.

Currently, the Mule Deer population faces an urgent threat: the proposal to expand the Caldera Springs destination resort, which would effectively destroy the last remnants of a wildlife corridor once protected as Forest Service land. In place of quiet forests and safe wildlife passages, Caldera Springs proposes luxury cabins and nearly 400 new lodging units spread out over 614 acres of precious Deer and Elk habitat. Before they can expand, Caldera Springs needs approval from the county, which they received earlier this year. LandWatch has appealed the decision, and is currently working to prevent the expansion in court. And what can we say for the Mule Deer?

Photo by Brent McGregor

Photo by Brent McGregor

They were here first. We call this place home, but the Mule Deer who make their way through Central Oregon each year have this land in their bones. Their migration pattern is passed through the generations, and each time we see a deer laying along the road, a fawn has lost his way. Mule Deer and Elk are as much a part of Central Oregon as our beloved Deschutes River, as the Juniper trees that twist toward the sky and the Three Sisters that delight and awe us each day. It is imperative as Central Oregonians that we take a stand, and act as stewards to this land that we cherish. Join LandWatch in opposing the Caldera Springs expansion that would further strip Central Oregon of one of its most beloved natural resources.