News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

County scraps mule deer inventory

A plan intended to protect mule deer populations in Central Oregon has ended up as roadkill.

At its June 26 meeting, the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 to withdraw the County’s mule deer inventory update project. The project had included community conversations about the potential creation of the 2023 Mule Deer Winter Range Combining Zone. In May, the Deschutes County Planning Commission had deliberated on the zone following two public hearings in April and recommended approval by a 5-1 vote.

Planning staff has thereby withdrawn the proposal from the Department of Land Conservation and Development. The Board of Commissioners will discuss implementing the Planning Commission’s recommendation to convene a stakeholder group on this topic at the board meeting on Wednesday, July 5.

The move was initiated by Commissioner Tony DeBone, who voted with Commissioner Patti Adair to stop the project from moving forward. Commissioner Phil Chang called for the vote after DeBone questioned why the project needed to be advanced.

The back and forth among the commissioners appeared tense, and Chang told The Nugget that he was “pretty irritated. The public was robbed of an opportunity” to provide the Board with input. Chang assumed that there would be public hearings before the Board.

The Deschutes County Planning Commission held community information sessions earlier, one in Sisters.

DeBone and Adair see the issue as one of private property rights. Chang sees it as a land-use matter not infringing upon any landowner rights, although he recognizes that some limits or restrictions could be imposed in rural landowners.

“There was a great deal of public pressure surrounding the issue and a substantial amount of misinformation,” Chang said.

He said he was frustrated that Commissioner DeBone was not giving him any substantive rationale for his position.

“He had made up his mind and was not going to be dissuaded,” Chang said.

DeBone told The Nugget “I’ve heard from constituents all over the county who fear this action will limit what they can do on their own property. For some it’s a misunderstanding and for others they are worried that elements conflict with other state land-use laws.

“Look,” De Bone said, “we all want habitat protected but this probably belongs to ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife), not the County. This is tricky stuff and invites all sorts of potential issues.” He cited ADU (accessory dwelling units) on rural properties within the proposed zone as an example of possible contradiction of existing land-use laws.

While the commissioners voted to withdraw the inventory project, they agreed to continue the discussion at the July 5 meeting. In addressing the commissioners on the matter, Peter Gutowsky, the County’s community development director, said: “This is a very divisive, complex issue.”

Asking that his department not lead the next phase, he suggested that Mark Labhart of Black Butte Ranch, who is an ODFW commissioner, would be a good facilitator for further discussions.

The last mule deer inventory in the county was taken in 1992.


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