Winter can be a challenging time for local wildlife, and while deer are no exception, state wildlife officials are urging people to resist the temptation to feed them.
In some cases, feeding deer can actually hurt the deer a lot more than it helps them. Biologists give several reasons why it’s a bad idea. First, deer have complex and delicate digestive systems. If you feed a deer food that its digestive system isn’t ready to accept, the deer can actually die even though its stomach is full.
Feeding deer congregates the animals in a small area, and that can lead to all kinds of problems for them. Congregating in a small area increases the chance that the deer will pass diseases to each other. Also, when they congregate to feed, it creates an “every deer for itself” scenario: The larger deer push the smaller deer aside, and fawns often end up receiving less food than they normally would.
Feeding deer near a road increases the chance that the deer will be hit and killed by cars, creating a bad situation for both deer and motorists.
Deer that come looking for handouts from humans will also eat the other vegetation that’s in and near the feeding area. Too many deer eating vegetation in a small area can damage the plants in the area for years to come, and the plants won’t be there for them to eat in the future.
Even after winter is over, deer will often stay close to the area where people fed them instead of moving to their normal summer ranges.
As they do every winter, biologists with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources are monitoring deer closely. In addition to keeping an eye on the condition the deer are in, biologists are monitoring four other things: The amount of food that’s available to the deer; how deep the snow is; how cold the temperature is; and the amount of body fat they find on deer that have been killed along roads.
If three or more of the five factors reach a critical point, biologists will consider feeding deer specially designed pellets. The pellets are formulated to fit the complex digestive system mule deer have and to give them extra energy, which is something deer that are struggling to find food can really use.