Every year well-meaning individuals leave food out for wild animals, particularly deer, attempting to supplement their winter diet. But the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources says the seeming kindness can do much more harm than good.
The diet of deer is fragile and can be harmed by slight changes said Chris Schulze, conservation officer with the DWR.
“The wrong food at the wrong time of year can be hazardous and even kill deer; it wreaks havoc on their digestive systems,” Schulze said.
Along with the nutritional issues of feeding deer, Schulze said the feedings create a domino effect of unseen negative outcomes. He said when deer congregate disease can spread, particularly in cold weather situations where their immune systems are compromised. Also, the unnatural groupings caused by man-placed food can negatively impact the rangelands the deer rely on for the bulk of their sustenance, according to Schulze.
The wild deer also can lose their ability to seek out food.
“Long-term feeding, if it becomes a habit, can alter their behavior,” Schulze said. “They’ll become habituated to that and they’ll come back year after year, which doesn’t do anyone any service.”
Finally, Schulze said the enticing of deer to residential areas can attract predators to lower regions where food sources are available.
Schulze said that though deer populations are especially susceptible to these issues, the cautions against supplemental feeding are relevant to most species.
The DWR has a planned emergency feeding program, which is used as a last resort for animals in dire situations.
For more information on winter feeding, visit the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources' website.