Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wildlife: There is no good reason to feed deer

Shorter days and chilly mornings remind many of us to fill the bird feeders. And for too many people, it's also a reminder to resume feeding deer. That's a habit that makes wildlife biologists cringe.
"There are no benefits to feeding white-tailed deer," said state Game Commission wildlife veterinarian Dr. Justin Brown, in a recent interview. "And that goes for elk, too."

Brown says feeding deer does far more harm than good. To accommodate gradual seasonal changes in diet, the bacteria, enzymes and pH in a deer's gut also change. Supplemental food, usually corn, provided abruptly when it gets cold upsets the digestive system and can lead to acidosis and even death. Deer with bellies full of corn can literally die of starvation because they cannot digest such a high carbohydrate diet.

And just because you don't see any dead deer doesn't mean they are not dying. The effects of acidosis may weaken them so they are more likely to be killed by vehicles, predators, parasites or other diseases.

Furthermore, Brown warns that indirect effects from feeding deer can lead to density-dependent impacts.

"Supplemental food sources cause deer to concentrate in unnaturally large social groups around feeders," he said. "That causes populations to exceed the carrying capacity of the habitat. More deer intensify competition for food and increase aggression. These deer fight more and are prone to injury. More social interaction can also increase the spread of a variety of diseases."

When deer travel to and from backyard feeders, they're more likely to die in collisions with vehicles. Also, backyard deer are notorious for destroying valuable shrubs planted to beautify backyards.
There is no up side to feeding deer in the backyard or on the back forty. Healthy white-tailed deer are perfectly capable of surviving cold, snowy winters without extra food from kind-hearted wildlife lovers.

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