By Gisela Ryter / Published in The Bulletin
They did not know they would die here. For generations mule deer have come to Bend and surroundings this time of year to birth their young and to raise them for six months, until they are ready to travel the hundred miles or so to their wintering grounds east of here. Little do they know this is no longer safe for them. The Bend area has ceased to be deer- and elk-friendly. Urban sprawl and development occupy valuable wildlife habitat that includes elk winter ranges.
Former deer and elk terrain on the west side is now covered with a warming hut, golf courses galore, and growing residential developments reaching far into the forest. Elk once occupied the area where Widgi Creek is now. The Brookswood residential development was elk winter range not long ago. They were displaced and roamed to a golf course where they were not welcome. A hay farmer did not like them either. Where are these animals supposed to go?
Isn’t it time we came to our senses and followed the example of Washington state, which requires consideration of impacts to wildlife before new projects or development can occur? Great damage has been done already in our area. We need to adopt a more deer- and elk-friendly policy if we want to avoid disaster. Every year we are losing more and more of our once abundant wildlife not only to development but also to deer/vehicle collisions.
Deer saved on U.S. Highway 97 by underpasses are struck on roads such as Cascade Lakes Highway, S. Century Drive, Huntington Road and others. The death toll in town is equally horrendous, particularly on Knott Road, Mt. Washington Drive, 15th Street and Century Drive. But collisions happen all over town. We need deer-crossing signs in Bend. Fewer accidents save lives and tax dollars spent on carcass removal.
When I moved here in 1979 they were abundant. You seldom saw a dead deer on the road. Nowadays I consider myself blessed when I do not have to cry out in pain over another dead doe as I did one recent morning on S. Century Drive near Huntington Road. She might have been carrying a fawn, whose life has now been snuffed out also. Why don’t more of us speak out and demand change? Do we shrug it off as “just another dead deer?” Are we so self-absorbed that animal lives don’t count? We must wake up to the sad reality that due to reckless past and ongoing development deer and elk are now doomed to live in our midst on our busy city streets, county roads and highways. Expect them anywhere and anytime. They cannot avoid us because we are all over their territory. The least we could do for them is to respect them more when we drive. Do take deer-crossing signs seriously. Reduce your speed and look for them. Give them a brake. Does slowing down for a short distance really make a big difference in your day? When you see a deer, look for more. They usually travel in groups. Slow down. Turn on your flashers to signal danger to other drivers. You will not only save your car, but you might even save your life.
A small group of citizens in Bend is trying to raise awareness about the plight of our once abundant wildlife, and to educate the public about why they have to migrate in the spring and fall and what dangers they face. We all can help to make their lives safer.
Let the three bronze statues of a beautiful deer family in the circle on Century Drive remind you that the need for action for wildlife is now critical if we want to preserve them as magnificent members of our beautiful area.
— Gisela Ryter lives in Bend.