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The Game Trail

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The Game Trail

For the last time, don't feed the deer!

Are you one of the many Bonner County residents that feed wildlife? Your heart might be in the right place but that’s the only thing right about feeding wild animals.  I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t make this very clear: if you are feeding any wildlife, especially deer, elk and moose, you are responsible for killing those animals in the long run whether you like it or not. So quit it, knock it off, break the habit, and tell your neighbor to please do the same.

Feeding wildlife is not illegal in Idaho, but it has gotten so out of hand it now needs to be regulated. There are many states, especially in the West, that are taking a stance against feeding wildlife because they realize the risk to humans and wildlife alike. I applaud the Montana legislators and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for passing a law last year that makes feeding wildlife illegal. The folks in Montana are obviously concerned with human—wildlife conflicts, the health of deer and elk herds, reducing vehicle wildlife collisions, and the concentration of predators in close proximity to human dwellings.

Montana’s law prohibits any person from providing supplemental feed attractants to game animals by: purposely or knowingly attracting bears with supplemental feed attractants... or purposely or knowingly providing supplemental feed attractants in a manner that results in an artificial concentration of game animals that may potentially contribute to the transmission of disease or that constitutes a threat to public safety .... ”Supplemental feed attractant” means any food, garbage, or other attractant for game animals.

Wild animals that are fed by humans may congregate in unnaturally high numbers, creating the perfect opportunity for diseases to spread. As populations of wildlife grow unnaturally from being fed, a small number of diseased animals will come in contact with the entire local population spreading disease unnaturally fast. Diseases that can affect our pets and us such as rabies and distemper flourish on unnaturally high animal populations and spread quickly at feed sites.  Deer concentrated at feeding sites are more likely to contract diseases such as tuberculosis, salmonella, and brucellosis.  The prevalence of saliva and nose-to-nose contact at these locations allows the deadly diseases to be easily passed from one deer to another.

Feeding wildlife, especially prey species such as deer, squirrels and turkeys, often attracts predator species such as coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. Due to increased food availability, the prey densities increase; this in turn attracts these predators. Conservation Officers throughout the state receive numerous calls about predators acting strange and being destructive to personal property. More times than not, this is a direct result of people feeding wildlife and creating the unsafe situation of attracting predators to areas close to human activity. Unfortunately, the result is that individual animal has to be euthanized to protect people and property.

Deer and elk are well adapted to their seasonally changing diet.  They are ruminants like domestic cows, so they have a compartmentalized digestive system than contains a rumen. The rumen is the large, first chamber of a ruminant animal’s stomach in which microorganisms break down plant cellulose before the food is returned to the mouth as cud for additional chewing. Rumen microorganisms in deer began to adjust to a diet switching from easily digested grasses and forbs available in spring and summer, to one much harder to digest of cured grasses and woody browse in the winter. This adjustment is a gradual process, so introducing highly digestible feed such as commercially blended mixes this time of year does not do the deer any good, and results in the problems of diarrhea, impaction, acidosis, and rumenitis.

Feeding causes animals to deviate from natural food sources and natural movement patterns. Pulling animals off of historic winter range has dire consequences for us and the animals. Deer, elk, and moose will cross roadways at a higher rate to get to feed sites, causing vehicles damage, human injury, and wildlife destruction.

If you are feeding make it a resolution that you won’t feed anymore, ever. You are not helping the wildlife and you are being a terrible neighbor. If you want to enjoy wildlife on your property spend the time and money you did feeding by planting native vegetation that is desirable browse and forage for deer and elk. If you need help selecting those plants, please contact me.

I believe that we need to have laws banning feeding for the good of the wildlife and people of our great state. If you feel as strongly about it as I do, please contact your elected official and discuss those possibilities. It would be a great opportunity to let the other counties in Idaho knows that Bonner County cares about wildlife and is willing to be proactive about issues.

Now is the time to start thinking about getting signed up for Hunter Education. Classes are being added to the schedule every day. The way, and the only way, to sign up is go to our website, click on the hunter education tab and find a class near you. 

Antler shed hunting is picking up and what a great time to spend with the younger generation in the outdoors. Please be cognizant of wintering elk and deer, they need the break so don’t push around the mountains just to find some antlers.

Leave No Child Inside

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Matt Haag Matt Haag is an Idaho Fish and Game Conservation Officer.

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