Biologists to monitor mule deer in winter

Published: Monday, Dec. 16 2013 3:10 p.m. MST

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has issued guidelines in caring for mule deer for the winter months.

Ray Grass, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has issued guidelines in caring for mule deer for the winter months.

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.

To help the deer, biologists encourage residents not to feed deer on their own.

Justin Shannon, big game coordinator for the DWR, said feeding deer can actually hurt the animals more than it helps them.

“If winter conditions get too severe, though, feeding deer can be worth the potential risks,” Shannon said.

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

Shannon says biologists are monitoring five things: the condition of the deer as they entered the winter; the amount of food available to the deer; how deep the snow is; how cold the temperature is; and 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 outlined some of the risks of residents feeding deer on their own: Deer have complex and delicate digestive systems. If they eat the wrong foods, the deer can actually die with stomachs that are full of food, he said.

Also, feeding deer congregates them in a smaller area, which increases the chance that the deer will pass diseases to each other, and when deer congregate to feed, it’s “every deer for itself,” Shannon said.

The larger deer push the fawns aside. Fawns often receive less food than they would have received had they been left alone.

Feeding deer near a road can increase the chance the deer will be killed by cars.

And deer will also eat other vegetation in and near the feeding area. This can lead to deer over-browsing the area. That 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, Shannon said.

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