Some people like to hunt deer, some like to watch them and others like to admire the way they help trim our rose bushes.
Well maybe not so much on the last one, but generally many folks who have grown up around deer, appreciate them in some way. If you like having deer around or would like to distract them away from the roses, then you may be interested in providing or improving habitat for them.
There are several components to deer habitat. Like us they need food, shelter and water. Deer tend to browse on a variety of native shrubs and graze on a variety of grasses. In the fall and winter, acorns become particularly important for their high fat content which helps animals put on fat to make it through the winter. For shelter, they need some type of cover: Brush, tall grass or downed wood. As for water, availability is the key.
To improve food sources for deer, plant a variety of native shrubs, grass or improve oak conditions. For example, in place of invasive blackberry bushes, you could plant vine maple, red-osier dogwood, Indian plum, blue elderberry or wild rose. To increase grazing areas, plant food plots on or near field edges that are hayed, with a mix of native grasses such as blue wild rye, Roemer’s fescue, western fescue and American slough grass.
To increase acorn production and abundance, thin overstocked oak stands enough to allow crowns to spread out. If a stand has a 100 percent canopy cover, you can thin down to 60 to 80 percent canopy cover without too much habitat disturbance for other oak related species. A combination of all three will have the best results for improving deer habitat.
Deer also need places to take cover from the elements, from predators and sometimes from us. Along water bodies plant willow and cottonwood. Leave areas with tall grass. Create brush piles or leave logs and fallen trees. Or you can leave the barn door cracked open and they will nestle down at night in the hay. I take that one back. It is quite startling to have a scared deer you just woke up come running at you to get through the only barn opening and you’re standing in it. Increased cover will also provide safe places for fawns to be born and to hide in.
To improve watering opportunities, provide safe places and increase availability. Create and maintain small openings along streams or ponds. Place guzzlers or troughs away from streams or on high ground. Develop springs that are protected from livestock. Even a seasonal spring can be utilized to fill troughs and provide an additional water source for part of the year.
If you like having deer around, I hope you try a few of these tips. And please, remember to shut the hay barn door. It just makes for a much calmer morning.
For information on our local deer and their habitat, check the following websites: fws.gov/oregonfwo/Species/Data/ColumbianWhiteTailedDeer/default.asp and dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/docs/Oregon_Black-Tailed_Deer_Management_Plan.pdf.
Cindy Bright-Pierre is a restoration biologist for Douglas Soil & Water Conservation District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.