Due to the severe drought conditions in many parts of Wyoming, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is warning people that regardless of winter conditions, there may significant be losses to wildlife this year. Mule deer and pronghorn are already in poor condition going into fall and there is simply not much for them to eat on their winter ranges. “This is one of the worst droughts in history, and according to some individuals who have lived here their entire lives it is the worst they can remember,” says Jason Hunter, Lander Regional Wildlife Supervisor.
Virtually all wild animal populations experience significant and dramatic fluctuations. People commonly make the mistake of thinking feeding mule deer is just as beneficial as feeding other wildlife. Individuals who advocate feeding mule deer are well intentioned, but feeding mule deer can cause problems for the animals and their habitats.
Mule deer will likely still starve when fed in the winterMule deer are highly selective foragers, at least in part due to their specialized digestive system. Specific types of bacteria in their rumen are required to aid in the digestion of naturally occurring foods. Often, because their digestive system can’t adapt quickly enough, supplementally fed mule deer die with stomachs full of undigested feed. Supplemental feeding programs have been effective for other species like elk because their digestive systems are more adaptable to different kinds of forage
Supplemental feeding may increase predation and prevalence of disease and parasites. Winter feeding programs create artificially high concentrations of mule deer at feeding stations or locations, creating ideal conditions for increased loss due to predation, diseases, and parasites.
Supplemental feeding can reduce the winter range’s carrying capacityIf mule deer numbers remain artificially high through supplemental feeding, it can result in habitat degradation where feeding occurs creating a situation where these habitats support fewer wildlife.
Both proponents and opponents of winter feeding have the deer’s best interest in mind. However, even well designed and executed winter feeding programs do not significantly increase mule deer survival. It’s necessary to consider the biological impacts to the habitat, to other species, and to mule deer in the long-term. We must focus on the sustainability of the mule deer population for generations to come – not just one winter.
Feeding Deer is Not the Answer Video
Understanding Mule Deer and Winter Feeding
Keeping Mule Deer Wild Talking Points
WAFWA Mule Deer Working Group
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Summary
Idaho Department of Fish and Game Summary
Nevada Department of Wildlife Summary
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Summary
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