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Orange County Focus

LAGUNA BEACH : Opinions Differ on Need for Deer Census

September 07, 1993|LESLIE EARNEST

Though a state wildlife official is skeptical about the need for a deer census around Laguna Beach, others involved with managing or studying those wilderness areas say they are frustrated because they lack such information.

"We don't have any idea how many we've got, if the population is going up or down," said biologist Elisabeth Brown, a member of the Coastal Greenbelt Authority, which was formed to manage the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

"The open space available to these animals is shrinking," she said.

"I think it's important to understand what the population is doing if we want to keep them successfully in the future."

What's needed, according to Brown, is a survey of the deer that shows the number of animals using these areas and the corridors that connect them.

Unfortunately, wildlife officials tend not to keep tabs on such wildlife unless they are in a hunting area.

Marie Hulett-Curtner, public education officer for Orange County Animal Control, said that biologists tend to ignore urban wildlife when they conduct studies.

"That's really a big piece of missing information that would really help a lot of people if we knew what we were encountering," she said.

To some though, the whole idea of a census is silly. John Massie, senior wildlife biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game, said such statistics are unimportant for planning purposes.

In general, Massie said, the best way to determine the well-being of a deer herd is to allow hunting for a select number of does so that they can then be studied.

"Counting the deer is something that's virtually impossible and not really necessary," he said "To know how many deer might be there is not germane to just about any decision-making process."

Edward Almanza is the owner of a consulting firm that prepared environmental reports for the county regarding Aliso and Wood Canyons Regional Park.

He said the reports, which have not yet been made public, will recommend studies of mammals in the area.

"That would entail maybe getting a sense of the population demographics," he said, adding that they probably will not be "doing an exhaustive study because that's very extensive and very expensive."

What's most important, Almanza said, is that planners understand how mammals will move from one area to another within what will become a "super park," composed of adjacent wilderness areas, including Aliso and Wood Canyons Regional Park, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Crystal Cove State Park.

As it is, to get from Aliso and Wood Canyons to the far section of Laguna Canyon, deer must cross both El Toro and Laguna Canyon roads, according to Almanza.

"That's the kind of thing that needs to be thought of in a very comprehensive way," he said.

"Regardless of how many deer you have in the area, the vital thing really is to provide for their movement between sub-areas."

But Massie said the idea of providing wildlife corridors for deer is "grossly oversold," because Southern California deer do not migrate.

Deer from Aliso and Wood Canyons probably will not venture beyond that area, he said.

"The fact is, the deer in coastal ranges are non-migratory and occupy relatively small areas," he said.

"Where they pass through a narrow corridor, they're going to be subject to attack by dogs."

Several years ago, deer were being hit by cars regularly on Laguna Canyon Road; but today, animal experts say, such road kills have dwindled to a very few.

Without proper studies, some experts say, there is no way of knowing whether there were more deer previously or if the animals at that time ventured into populated areas more often in search of food and water.

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