WGFD discourages wildlife feeding
by Wyoming Game & Fish
December 21, 2010
As many Wyoming residents are finding out, private feeding of wildlife can cause serious problems. Each year there are many examples of how a well meaning gesture to "help" wildlife gets out of hand.
Someone wanting to help a doe and her fawn or an injured moose ends up trying to feed forty deer and several moose, not to mention dealing with irate neighbors angry about their shrubs and trees being destroyed. There are many reasons why feeding wildlife can be detrimental to both wildlife and humans. One of the most visible is severe damage to ornamental trees and shrubs, which can go well beyond the property where feeding occurs. Even if the animals are being fed enough to fill their stomachs they still have the innate requirement to browse on woody plants. It doesn’t take long for several deer or moose to strip the bark or break the branches off aspen trees or other shrubs, even killing mature trees in some cases.
Big game animals, such as deer and moose will readily eat hay, but will typically continue to browse on woody plants because that’s what their stomachs are naturally designed to consume. Wild ungulates have micro-organisms in their stomachs to aid in digestion. These micro-organisms are adapted to breakdown vegetation the animal naturally consumes during winter months, primarily woody plants. This means it takes a lot longer to digest hay which is not normally available to them during the winter. That’s why these animals can often starve to death despite having a stomach full of hay.
Feeding by private citizens often takes place in developed areas which generally draws the animals into conflict situations. The animals are continually crossing roads where they are hit by vehicles or chased, and sometimes killed, by homeowners’ dogs. Just being in close proximity to humans generally elevates the stress on these animals.
On the other hand, if the animal becomes habituated to human contact, it may lead to human injury. People and often children, are fooled into thinking the animal is tame and may try to approach it. These animals are still wild and may unexpectedly strike out in self defense or defense of its young.
Disease is another consideration. Artificial feeding of wildlife generally concentrates the animals in a small area. These conditions are ripe for diseases and parasites to be readily spread from one animal to the next and throughout a whole herd.
Wild animals are generally very habitual. Once fed, they will often return the following year with their offspring and others and will soon overwhelm the hobby feeder. In addition, they may also lure in predators such as coyotes, mountain lions or domestic dogs which are often attracted to large groups of prey animals.
Wyoming residents are fortunate to live in such close proximity to wildlife, but along with that comes the responsibility of learning how to properly coexist with them. Part of this responsibility includes resisting the urge to "help" wildlife through the winter by feeding them. For more information on how to properly live with wildlife you may contact the Wyoming Game and Fish Department office at 1-800-452-9107 or 307-367-4353 in Pinedale and 1-800-423-4113 or 307-733-2321 in Jackson.