With deer feeding in the news lately, I just wanted to take some time and explain why Colorado Parks and Wildlife takes feeding wildlife so seriously.

First, 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. Feeding deer, elk, and other wildlife can do more harm than good.

CPW 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.

Unwanted and dangerous guests

One important reason not to feed deer is that deer are the primary prey of mountain lions. Concentrating deer by feeding can attract mountain lions into our neighborhoods and backyards. Over time, mountain lions become less wary and more emboldened. They are more likely to attack pets and people. When that happens, it can spell death for the lions to ensure public safety.

Disrupted behavior

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.

Luring wildlife to your yard by putting out food could set the wild animals up for death if they have to cross highways to get to feeders or if they encounter harassment from domestic pets. An even more concerning consequence is that once wildlife stop using their historic ranges, that land could end up being developed, and the animals lose valuable habitat forever.

Disease

Concentrating deer by feeding them can also increase stress on the deer and hasten the spread of disease. Diseases can spread between wildlife and livestock, as well as to domestic animals and people. CPW is most concerned about devastating diseases, such as chronic wasting disease, a neurological disease that could a cause of declining deer populations throughout Colorado.

Health

We all know junk food is bad for people, but it is even worse for wild animals. Deer, elk and pronghorn are ruminants. That means they have a four-chambered stomach that serves as a fermentation vat. They can eat lots of vegetation and digest it very thoroughly.

Deer that habitually eat artificial feeds that do not meet their nutritional needs often wind up in being in poor condition. Unlike natural foods, treats from people often cannot be digested properly by big game. In fact, human food can stop a wild animal’s digestive system, causing it to get sick and die.

Deer, elk, and pronghorn depend entirely on native vegetation, such as grasses, forbs, and shrubs. Those plants provide all the nutritional requirements the animals need to survive in Colorado, even through the winter. Eating non-natural kinds of foods can result in nutritional problems for wildlife, or even death.

Even commercial feeds are available at many stores can be harmful. Just look back at the disease and disrupted behavior sections on the CPW website. CPW hopes that once people learn about the negative impacts that occur when wildlife are fed, most people will stop doing it.

Birds

CPW supports and encourages using backyard bird feeders to supplement natural food for song birds in the winter. Be sure that the food you provide song birds is fresh, and clean the feeder periodically.

Common bird foods include sunflower seed and millet; some birds also are attracted by fresh fruit. In addition to your feeder, be sure to offer a source of water for your backyard birds, year-round if possible. Remember to hang the feeders up where deer and elk cannot reach them.

Also, it is important to put those feeders away in the spring when the bears come out of hibernation. Bears generally hibernate from late November to mid-April. Be aware that certain bird foods, particularly hummingbird nectar, are very attractive to bears.

Put your bird foods and hummingbird feeders away if you don’t want to inadvertently create potentially dangerous conflicts with our state’s largest predator close to your home. For more information, contact your nearest CPW office.

The law

Under Colorado law, intentionally feeding big game animals is illegal. The prohibition applies to deer, elk, pronghorn, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and bears. Violators can face approximately $140 in fines.

We hope you won’t face such a fine and that we’ve explained why it’s best to simply let Mother Nature take care of wild animals. If you don’t, you quite literally could end up loving our wildlife to death.

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