As they do every winter, biologists with the Division of Wildlife Resources have been monitoring the deer closely. In addition to determining the condition of the deer as they entered the winter, the biologists have been watching for four additional things:
- The amount of food available to the deer
- How deep the snow is
- How cold the temperature is
- 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.
Anis Aoude, big game coordinator for the DWR, says biologists came close to feeding deer in Rich County this winter.
“In December,” he says, “the snow was piling up. Then the cold temperatures froze the top of the snow. That made it difficult for the deer to paw through the snow to find their food.”
Then, in January, the conditions improved. “It didn’t snow as much,” Aoude says, “and the temperatures warmed up and started to melt the snow. We didn’t need to feed the deer after all.”
Aoude and other biologists were relieved that the deer didn’t need to be fed. While feeding deer can help the animals when winter conditions are severe, feeding can also put deer in circumstances that aren’t good for the deer or the plants the deer rely on.
Aoude says biologists will continue to monitor the winter conditions and the deer herds. If the deer need to be fed, the biologists will make sure the feeding is done in the right way, at the right time and with food that is best for the deer.
Don’t feed the deer
Aoude strongly advises you not to feed deer on your own. “You may not realize it,” he says, “but feeding deer actually harms the deer a lot more than it helps them.”
Aoude gives several reasons why feeding deer is a bad idea:
- Deer have complex and delicate digestive systems. If you feed the wrong foods to them, the deer can actually die with stomachs that are full of food.
- Feeding deer congregates them in a smaller area. And that can lead to all kinds of problems for the deer:
- Congregating deer in a small area increases the chance that the deer will pass diseases to each other.
- When deer congregate to feed, it’s “every deer for itself.” The larger deer push the smaller deer—the fawns—aside. Fawns often end up receiving less food than they would have received if you had left the deer alone and not fed them.
- Feeding deer near a road increases the chance that deer will be killed by cars.
- In addition to eating what you’re feeding them—which may or may not be good for them to eat—deer will also eat other vegetation in and near the feeding area. This can lead to deer over-browsing the area. That over-browsing can damage the plants in the area for years to come.
- Even after winter is over, deer will often stay close to the area where you fed them.
More information about why deer shouldn’t be fed is available at wildlife.utah.gov/dwr/deer-winter-feeding.html.