Wildlife Biologists Keeping a Close Eye on Deer

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Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Press Release

Snow and cold temperatures have blanketed places mule deer live in Utah. That’s brought Division of Wildlife Resources biologists out in force.

As they do every winter, biologists will monitor the state’s deer herds closely until winter ends. If conditions get too severe, biologists are ready to feed deer specially designed pellets that will help them get through the winter.

DWR big game coordinator Justin Shannon says feeding deer can actually hurt the animals more than it helps.

Shannon says biologists are monitoring the five following things:

  • The condition of deer as they entered the winter.
  • 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.

Shannon strongly advises the public to not feed deer on their own. If feeding is not done the right way, he says the following can happen:

  • Deer have complex and delicate digestive systems. If fed the wrong foods, the deer can actually die with stomachs that are too full.
  • Feeding deer congregates them in a smaller area. This can lead to all kinds of problems for the deer:
  • Congregating deer in a small area increases the chance that they 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 they had been left alone and not fed.
  • Feeding deer near a road increases the chance the deer will be killed by cars.
  • In addition to eating what’s being fed—which may or may not be good for them—deer will also eat other vegetation in and near the feeding area. This can lead to deer over-browsing the area. 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 they were fed.

More information about the challenges feeding poses to deer is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/dwr/deer-winter-feeding.html.

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