Feeding Deer - Bad Idea
by Wyoming Game & Fish
January 12, 2010
Your heart might be in the right place when you feed the local deer herd. But, thatís the only thing in the right place.
After picking up multiple dead mule deer killed by vehicles, Kemmerer game warden Andrew Countryman is hoping to appeal to residentsí common sense when it comes to the private feeding of deer.
"We have a serious problem in some areas with homeowners feeding large numbers of deer," says Countryman. "These are well-meaning people, but they donít realize that in the long run, they could be responsible for the deaths of many of these animals. Knowing what we know about the problems associated with supplemental feeding wildlife by private citizens in or around towns, we would be irresponsible as a game and fish agency if we didnít do something to try and stop it."
Lucy Wold is the Game and Fish Green River Information and Education Specialist and she says there several reasons why people should not feed wildlife.
"Deer are ruminants like domestic cows, so they have a compartmentalized digestive system that includes the rumen," Wold said. "The rumen is the large, first chamber of a ruminant animal's stomach in which microorganisms break down plant cellulose before the food is returned to the mouth as cud for additional chewing. Microorganisms in the rumen break down food which provides energy, fats and protein for the animalís growth. These microorganisms in deer are adapted to convert native forage to energy, not commercially blended feed mixes. Changing deer forage this late in the winter results in deer with diarrhea, impaction, acidosis and rumenitis."
"No one likes to see animals suffer and we can understand why some people resort to feeding," Wold said. "However, rumen microorganisms in deer began to adjust to a diet switching from easily digested grasses and forbs available in spring and summer to one much harder to digest of cured grasses and woody browse several months ago. This adjustment is a gradual process not like switching a light switch on and off. As a result, artificially feeding deer now with easily digested feed does not do the deer any good and results in the problems we have seen with deer affected by scours or diarrhea. And we have received calls from residents concerned for these "sick" deer."
Wold says landowners and homeowners should become informed about the dangers and consequences of feeding big game animals.
"Another consequence of feeding deer is severe habitat damage, which may include your yard. Artificial feeding attracts unnatural concentrations of animals into small areas. Even if the animals are being fed enough to fill their stomachs they still have the innate requirement to browse. It doesnít take long for several deer or elk to strip your aspen trees or defoliate your shrubs, and in severe cases they may even kill mature trees by girdling, or stripping, the bark off all the way around the tree."
"Feeding wildlife becomes habit forming for them. Once fed, they will often return the following year with their offspring and others and will soon overwhelm the backyard feeder. Young deer learn how to migrate from the adult deer and they wonít learn to migrate if people keep feeding them in town. Some local folks are jokingly referring to the resident deer as "bum deer". This really is no joking matter."
Wold says feeding deer in town also has the potential to lure in predators such as coyotes, mountain lions or domestic dogs, which are often attracted to large groups of prey animals and may pose a danger to people and domestic animals as well. She said that feeding also may increase the probability of animals getting caught in fences when travelling to and from feeding areas.
She said another problem is that deer are commonly fed near roads and homes where there is constant contact with humans. Each encounter with humans causes stress in deer which manifests itself as elevated heart rates and faster metabolism resulting in deer wasting energy.
"Winter is a delicate balancing act for wildlife," says Game and Fish I&E Supervisor and wildlife biologist Bob Lanka. "Energy stored as body fat plus digestible energy intake from food needs to exceed the overall energy demand winter places on an animal. If energy demand exceeds availability the animal dies, simple as that."
"When fed in town, deer are also more likely to get hit by passing vehicles," Wold said. "An animal hit by a vehicle causes substantial property damage, possible injuries to passengers and most often a slow, painful death for the animal."
"If wildlife, such as these deer, becomes habituated to human contact, it may lead to human injury," Wold said. "People are often fooled into thinking a habituated animal is tame and try to approach it. These animals are still wild and may strike out at someone passing by in self-defense or defense of their young. Often times the public then expects the Game and Fish to remove this "dangerous" animal. Many times the animal is destroyed. No warden or biologists enjoys that duty."
"Even with quality wildlife habitat, wildlife struggle to survive every year," Lanka adds. "And even in good years many do not. Our overall, simple message to everyone is more quality habitat equals more wildlife."
Wold said there are many publications available at local Game and Fish regional offices, on the Game and Fish Web site at http://gf.state.wy.us, or at county extension offices, which explain the consequences of feeding wildlife and offer help to landowners and homeowners to improve habitat on their land.