Two orphaned fawns forage on the lawns of landscaped houses at the corner of Cherry Lane and Loan Oak Drive. - Jamie Lusch

Neighborhood drama plays out with fawns

Amid the new houses sprouting along east Medford's Cherry Lane, a lingering wildlife drama is playing itself out without a happy Hollywood ending in sight.

Two black-tailed deer fawns, still sporting the white spots of birth, stand comfortably alone on a manicured lawn where not so long ago stood an open field.

Zipping by are dump trucks and SUVs, most ignoring the 35 mph sign just three houses away. Women jogging behind pass within 15 feet, and all the fawns do is stare at them.

Noticeably missing is the fawns' mother, a neighborhood doe that spent much of the past eight weeks so boldly aggressive to residents that it was deemed a significant threat to human safety.

Answering repeated complaints from two neighbors, state wildlife biologists killed the doe Aug. 2, orphaning the young fawns that now hopscotch between Cherry Lane's lush backyards and undeveloped $150,000 lots.

The story has its protagonists in the fawns, its tragic figure in the doe. The neighbors, the construction crews and the SUVs all have roles themselves.

And starring again in the familiar boogeyman role is Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists.

Department policies that prohibit the relocation of human-habituated deer and require that human-safety concerns be addressed mean field biologists can't escape their bad-guy typecasting.

"The whole thing sickened me," says Rosemary Stussy, one of the ODFW biologists who tranquilized and killed the doe. "And the thought of that deer hurting someone sickened me."

Some neighborhood critics don't buy it.

"I think that's bogus," says Gayle Hart, an Applegate resident building a house on the block where the fawns remain. "I think it was just an easy solution for them, but look how cruel that was.

"My concern is for those babies," she says. "They're so little. I don't know how they're going to learn how to feed."

But the bottom line is this story was written as soon as the new Cherry Lane asphalt and adjacent homes sprouted in those fields that once housed blacktails.

Homeowners' fancy landscaping accidentally started feeding the deer. Other homeowners, with water buckets and corn, did it intentionally.

Every time someone tossed them an apple instead of a rock, these deer became that much more a part of the neighborhood. Eventually, they believed that neighborhood was theirs.

"They will get territorial," says Mark Vargas, the ODFW's Rogue District wildlife biologist.

At least two Cherry Lane residents telephoned Stussy saying this particular doe became so territorial that it wouldn't back down from human confrontations. One of the families wouldn't let their young kids play in the yard when the doe was around.

"That's the kind of stuff that happens when people and wild animals get together in a congestive space," Vargas says.

Doing nothing was no longer a choice, he says. The liability was too great should the doe take the next step and stomp someone.

"You can't just wait for someone to get hurt," Vargas says.

Tranquilizing the does and fawns, then releasing them far away, is a popular public choice, but an unpractical and even dangerous one, Vargas says.

Deer are highly migratory and once habituated to people, they will either return to their own haunts or find a new neighborhood of accidental or intentional feeders, he says.

"City deer," as they are known here, are also known to have higher concentrations of diseases that, if spread to migratory herds, could be devastating, Vargas says.

And tranquilized deer pose a health threat during hunting season, which began here Saturday for bowhunters. The animals carry the tranquilizer in their muscles for weeks, causing any released deer to be flagged as a don't-eat animal without first contacting ODFW biologists.

That left driving away with the doe in the ODFW pickup the only option.

Since the fawns no longer need to nurse, biologists decided to give them a shot at survival on their own.

"These type of things are always terrible," Vargas says. "They're ugly. You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't."

Neighbor Stan Smith, who has lived on nearby Stanford Avenue for more than two decades, expects the ugliness to continue.

"Those fawns won't make it through the winter," Smith says.

It's a story line as predictable as a matinee serial.

The people of Cherry Lane simply are the latest living in fringe habitat for wildlife that isn't willing to go down without a fight.

"You can blame all kinds of things," Vargas says. "Development. Deer-feeding. Deer taking refuge in developments. The bottom line is, they're still wild animals. They have instincts. They'll defend their habitat."

Unfortunately, Cherry Lane residents can expect a summer sequel as more lots sell and more houses sprout in the open field across from the Harts' new house.

In the meantime, the orphaned fawns will continue dodging SUVs and munching fancy landscaping while residents ponder what could have been.

"I really wish something else could have been done," Hart says. "But maybe there is no easy answer.

"I guess there's just no happy ending here," she says.

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