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DWR: Deer are fine, don't feed them

By John Hollenhorst | Posted - Jan 14th, 2011 @ 6:39pm

BOUNTIFUL -- Because of the recent frigid weather, wildlife officials are keeping an eye on Utah's coldest spots to see if deer are starving. So far, they see no need for an emergency feeding program, and they're asking the public not to feed the deer.

Although it sounds like an act of kindness and may even help some animals get through the cold months, supplemental feeding can create major problems.


When temperatures plunge below zero and stay there, it can take a toll on a deer's body.

"(They) will start to use more energy to keep warm basically, so they're using up their fat reserves quicker," said Anis Aoude, big game program coordinator with the Utah Division of Wildlife.

Aoude has been monitoring the deer to see if emergency feeding is justified.

"Right now, I don't think it's critical," she said. "It may be, in certain localized areas, in specific small areas where the deer may be more stressed."

The deer at Judy Peterson's place in Heber City look healthy, but she gives them extra food anyway. She calls the deer her friends.

"(They are) very friendly," she said. "I could walk right out in the middle of them and they wouldn't even run."

Peterson claims wildlife officials told her it was OK years ago. She said she was told she could put grain on the ground and salt lick for the deer. While that's legal, experts discourage feeding in all but extreme circumstances because it creates problems.

In a six-year period (1992-97), 16 million acres in the U.S. were developed. A large percentage of those acres were in places occupied by mule deer. -WAFWA

"We say 'no' because in a lot of instances, especially mule deer have a very complex digestive system," Aoude said. "If you don't feed them properly, you could be doing more harm than good."

Suddenly changing a deer's diet can easily lead to the deer eating food that it cannot readily digest. According to DWR, in these situations deer often die with full stomachs.

Another problem is disease. The DWR website states deer herds that are concentrated by feeding efforts are more likely to pass along diseases, like tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease, from one animal to the next.

When deer are fed, they tend to hang around and eat other things. Peterson admits her neighbors complain about deer eating their trees.

Experts say deer generally don't need the help. "These animals have evolved to deal with winter and the majority of them will put through it," Aoude said.

But the division stands ready to feed in limited areas, if local conditions get too extreme.


Story compiled with contributions from John Hollenhorst and Viviane Vo-Duc.

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