Winter feeding of deer and elk near homes cannot only be harmful to them, but can ultimately be dangerous, according to Jason Husseman, Idaho Fish and Game district wildlife biologist based in Salmon.
While feeding that cute little fawn in your yard may seem helpful, Fish and Game says the unintentional consequences can actually be detrimental to their health for several reasons.
“Feeding deer and elk is not the act of kindness some people think, but it can actually do more harm than good,” said Husseman. “It often begins with just a few animals, but their numbers can quickly grow and become overwhelming.”
Wildlife receiving supplemental feed often congregate in unnaturally high numbers in small areas, which increases the chances of diseases spreading among the population. Malnourished animals and crowding stress creates conditions ideal for serious disease outbreaks, which is a serious concern to livestock producers and wildlife managers alike.
Damage to vegetation at feed sites is another concern. Trees and shrubs, especially aspen and willow, can be heavily damaged and take decades to recover, if at all. “Of course, the same damage can occur to ornamental plants where big game are fed near homes,” Husseman said. “And not just on your property, but on your neighbor’s too.”
More importantly, feeding big game near homes is discouraged as they may lose their fear of humans, which can lead to injuries and sometimes death to the animal, pets and even injury to humans.
“Just last week, we received a call from a local resident whose small dog was killed by a deer in her yard,” Husseman said. “While they may look harmless, people need to realize that deer are wild animals and can be unpredictable.”
Feeding big game can also attract animals that homeowners don’t want around. Mountain lions are common in the forests of Idaho, and are sometimes attracted to city’s confines were deer can find refuge and often congregate where fed. Additionally, wildlife-vehicle collisions are also common in these areas where animals gather. Obviously, accidently hitting a 150-200 pound deer can cause serious personal injury, not to mention vehicle damage and injury or death to the deer.
Fish and Game asks the public not to feed wildlife this winter, and that well-meaning people can actually help wildlife by not feeding them and by securing stored feed sources.