Deer gather near houses in search of food.
SALT LAKE CITY — Although deer in urban areas and in the wild appear malnourished and struggle to survive in the winter, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources wants to remind the public not to feed deer or other wildlife.
Feeding wildlife is not illegal, but it causes several problems including public safety, the spread of disease among deer, elk and moose by bringing them together. Feeding big game can potentially harm wildlife by introducing foods that are not in their diet, especially during the winter months.
Over the years, DWR has found that when someone feeds wildlife, these animals often return to that area in search of food. Another concern DWR has are the areas where the wildlife is fed, often near highways and cities — and sometimes even neighborhoods.
Feeding deer and other animals near homes can lead to increased traffic accidents and other human-wildlife conflicts and can attract predators such as cougars following herds of deer. Deer are not predators, but they are still wild animals and can become aggressive.
†Help yourself and the wildlife by letting them stay in the wild and avoid conflict by not feeding themsaid DWR Big Game coordinator Covy Jones. “Feeding deer and other wildlife is usually not a good idea; it sounds like an act of kindness and can sometimes help some animals get through the cold months, but it can often cause major problems.”
Diseases such as chronic wasting disease can be relatively rare, but it is a communicable disease that affects the nervous systems of deer, elk and moose.
“Because the disease is so contagious, it’s essential that residents don’t feed deer or put out any food that will attract them,” said DWR vet Ginger Stout. “This includes putting out corn, hay, dog food or birdseed that deer have easy access to. While it may seem beneficial to do during the winter months, feeding deer speeds up the spread of chronic debilitating diseases because it helps keep the deer congregate.”
Fortunately, diseases are not widespread in all of Utah. The DWR takes every disease very seriously and conducts extensive monitoring every year to closely monitor the disease and its prevalence in the state
“We want to remain as proactive as possible to slow down and prevent the spread of this disease,” Stout said. †That’s why it’s essential that Utahns help us fight the spread of this disease by not feeding or congregating wild animals†
Introducing the wrong kind of food to wildlife can also harm them, especially during the winter. Deer extract nutrients from plant foods by fermenting it in a specialized stomach before digesting it.
Deer have four-part stomachs, and each chamber of the stomach gradually breaks down woody, leafy and grassy food into smaller particles. In winter, deer feed mainly on sagebrush and other woody plants. Suddenly changing a deer’s diet can easily cause the deer to eat foods it can’t easily digest. In these situations, deer often starve to death on a full stomach.
When deer gather to eat, larger deer often push the smaller deer — the fawns — aside, and they often get less food than they would have gotten if humans had left them alone.
The DWR occasionally feeds deer in specific emergencies when supplemental feeding is beneficial. When considering supplemental feeding, biologists carefully analyze whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
If the agency decides to proceed, wildlife managers will allocate the necessary resources, determine special food mixes and ensure that feeding takes place in an organized, targeted and strategic manner that maximizes benefits to the deer and minimizes potential adverse effects.
The DWR will sometimes feed elk in the Hardware Wildlife Management Area during the winter to help prevent local agricultural damage from the large elk herds. However, those moose are routinely monitored and tested for disease, and the feed is specialized so as not to harm the animals.