To Help Deer, Don't Feed Them
Feeding Deer Can Do More Harm Than Good
It is illegal in Colorado to intentionally place or distribute feed, salt blocks or other attractants for big-game animals. This problem is mainly associated with deer.
In the winter, deer herds tend to move to lower elevations closer to homes and businesses. Some people may feel the deer do not have adequate food sources in the wintertime and believe that supplementing their diets with grain, corn or hay is helpful. In fact, the contrary is true.
“People who feed deer do more harm than good,” said Trina Lynch, a district wildlife manager with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
According to Lynch, there are several reasons why a Colorado law passed in 1992 makes it illegal to feed big game animals. One important reason is that deer are the primary prey of mountain lions. “Concentrating deer by feeding can attract mountain lions well within the city limits. It may become necessary to kill these lions for public safety,” she said.
The normal feeding behavior of big game animals allows them to spread out as they graze or browse. Artificial feeding disrupts that behavior and prompts deer to crowd together in small areas where they are more likely to be chased by dogs and hit by cars.
Deer have a complex digestive system that is not adapted to digest bread and many types of hay. “Habituation to artificial feeds that do not meet their nutritional needs often results in deer that are in poor condition,” explains Bob Davies, a wildlife biologist in Colorado Springs. (Concentrating deer by putting food out can also increase stress on the deer and hasten the spread of disease.)
Although commercial feeds are available at many stores, Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists warn against using them. "Some of these products may indicate they will attract certain wildlife species, including deer,” said Davies. “People should be aware that if they place feed out, and deer consume it, they may be breaking the law.” Fortunately, once people learn about the negative impacts that occur when deer are fed, most stop doing it,” he said. “The few people that continue to feed cause problems for the deer and their neighbors,” he added.
People who attract deer to their neighborhood also run the risk of damaging their property and their neighbor’s property. “Some people are under the impression that if they supply a food source to the deer it will prevent the deer from damaging their ornamental plants. On the contrary,” said Lynch; “it usually results in greater damage to your plants.” Lynch recommends barriers, repellents and landscaping with native plants as more effective alternatives to prevent deer from causing damage to lawn and garden projects.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife launches controlled, emergency feeding of big-game animals only during extremely harsh winters when substantial numbers of animals are threatened. In all other cases, big-game animals are better off left to obtain their food naturally.