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Don't feed the deer, DWR biologists warn

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 13 2016 4:25 p.m. MST

Biologists with the Division of Wildlife Resources advise people not to feed deer in the winter. Feeding deer can actually harm the animals, they say.

Ron Stewart

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SALT LAKE CITY — Winter is the toughest time of the year for Utah's mule deer as snow and cold temperatures have blanketed the places they live.

And while many people may be inclined to feed the deer, that’s a bad idea, according to biologists with the Division of Wildlife Resources.

Justin Shannon, big game coordinator for the DWR, said deer have complex digestive systems, and if fed the wrong food, they can actually starve to death, even though their stomachs are full of food.

In addition, feeding deer can concentrate them in a smaller area, increasing the risk they will pass diseases to each other. And when deer congregate to feed, it's "every deer for itself." The larger deer push the smaller deer — the fawns — aside, and they often end up receiving less food than they would have received if people had left them alone.

As they do every winter, biologists are monitoring the state's deer herds for four things this winter:

• The amount of food available.

• How deep the snow gets.

• How cold the temperature gets.

• The amount of body fat they find on deer that have been killed along roads.

If at least three of the four factors reach a critical point, biologists will consider feeding deer specially designed pellets formulated to supplement their natural diet, and thus improving the odds of survival of some of the animals.

At checkpoints this past fall, biologists measured the amount of fat on deer taken by hunters. The amount of fat deer have in the fall is important because when food is hard to find, deer rely on fat reserves to get them through the season.

According to Shannon, the deer that came through the checkpoints were in really good condition. "They had plenty of fat reserves,” he said.

If deer are visiting your backyard, you can download tips on living with the animals at Wild Aware Utah’s website at wildawareutah.org/utah-wildlife-information/mule-deer.

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