This article was written by Fish and Game Regional Wildlife Manager Wayne Wakkinen, stationed at the regional office in Coeur d'Alene. It offers additional insights into the winter feeding issue.
As the snow piles up, we get reports from the public that deer and elk have come down from the mountains and are looking hungry. Some think feeding deer and elk will help the animals survive the rough winter months. They don’t understand why Fish and Game is reluctant to start a feeding program. But there are good reasons to be cautious about feeding wildlife.
Wild animals are well-adapted to survive most winters around here. If animals are in good condition going into winter, they will be able to survive even with cold temperatures and deep snow. Although people have good intentions and only want to help, feeding can lead to problems that result in a higher death rate than if nothing is done. Here are some good reasons to hold off on providing food for deer and elk:
Predation: Feeding sites can attract predators, such as mountain lions, because deer or elk are concentrated and found in the same spot every day. Without feeding, animals are more spread out and it is harder for the predator to predict where potential prey may be. Feeding can also bring predators closer to your house, possibly resulting in the loss of family pets.
Disease: Animals that are concentrated at a feed site can pass infectious diseases among themselves rapidly, resulting in more sick animals than if feed is not provided. Eye and respiratory infections and more common in animals gathered at feeding sites.
Digestive Problems: Deer and elk digestive systems are set up to digest food differently throughout the year. Changing from natural to supplemental high quality feed can result in problems like diarrhea, especially in younger animals.
Younger animals lose out: Older, stronger animals may dominate feed sites, leaving fawns and calves with little to eat. Once adults have fed, they’re content and don’t take their young to find other food.
Seasonal movement patterns: Providing artificial feed can change seasonal movement patterns. Animals that would normally move to summer range might choose to stay at your feed site and start causing problems by feeding on shrubs around your house. You may be stuck with these animals throughout the year!
Most people feel like they are able to help the deer and elk by feeding throughout the winter. We hope this article points out there is a downside to providing supplemental feed for wild animals in the winter. Please don’t feed and help keep the wildlife wild!