Regional Offices > Laramie Region > Laramie Region News > Feeding neighborhood deer can lead to problems

Feeding neighborhood deer can lead to problems

January 17, 2019
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Laramie -

Your heart might be in the right place when you feed the local deer herd. But, that’s the only thing in the right place.

 After seeing the negative impacts of fed mule deer firsthand, South Laramie Game Warden Bill Brinegar is hoping to appeal to residents’ common sense when it comes to the private feeding of deer. These negative impacts range from property damage such as destroyed vegetable gardens, flowerbeds, and shrubs, to pet injuries and deer-vehicle collisions.  It also encourages the deer to congregate in large herds, which increases the risk of transmission of parasites and diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease.

In December, Warden Bill Brinegar investigated a mule deer that was found dead near a residence in the North Fork subdivision near Centennial. The deer showed classic signs of Chronic Wasting Disease, including extreme emaciation and an abnormally small body size for its age. Warden Brinegar submitted a CWD sample for testing and it came back positive for the disease. “This is a classic example of the problems that feeding deer can cause,” Warden Brinegar said. Shortly thereafter, elk found dead near the Corner Mountain Trail in the Snowy Range also tested positive for CWD. “This was within a few miles of where residents in Centennial feed mule deer.”    

“We have a serious problem here in the Centennial area with homeowners feeding large numbers of deer,” Warden Brinegar said. “These are well-meaning people, but they don’t realize that in the long run, they could be responsible for the death of many of these animals.”

By providing opportunities for deer to obtain birdseed, field corn, or other supplemental food items, deer could become accustomed to humans, which can change their natural behavior. “Feeding urban deer may also have the effect of increasing the deer population in a community and that often creates conflict between neighbors, those who like to feed and those who do not want deer around at all,” Brinegar added. 

A deer’s stomach is also unable to digest the types of foods that people provide for them. Deer are ruminants like domestic cows, so they have a compartmentalized digestive system that includes the 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. Microorganisms in the rumen break down food which provides energy, fats and protein for the animal’s growth. These microorganisms in deer are adapted to convert native forage to energy, not commercially blended feed mixes. Changing deer forage in the winter results in deer with diarrhea, impaction, acidosis and rumenitis.

Feeding also brings animals to areas where they are more likely to cross roadways where their risk of being struck by vehicles is greater. Fed deer are also more likely to get into conflicts with pets and other domestic animals, as well as other human-created obstacles. 

Medicine bow Game Warden Dylan Bergman recently had to intervene when a buck mule deer was discovered with Christmas lights tangled on its antlers. “Many people feed the deer in town despite being informed of the potential health hazards to the deer, so I am surprised this does not happen more often,” Warden Bergman said.

Wildlife managers warn of another important reason not to feed urban deer—mountain lions. Mountain lions feed primarily on deer and they are active year-round. Houses, garages, shrubbery, and even parked vehicles make great stalking cover for mountain lions. If you intentionally feed deer to purposefully keep them around your home, the chances of attracting mountain lions into your neighborhood increases.

"I truly believe that many people have nothing but good intentions when they feed deer and probably never consider the unintended consequences of their actions,” Warden Brinegar said. “But it’s necessary to consider the biological impact 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. Please help wildlife by not feeding them.”  

- WGFD -

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