Feeding wildlife in the winter – it’s not the answer
Winter cold and snow are finally here, for real ,and whenever we have a lot of snow, as we did last year, many people begin to be concerned about wildlife.
Game biologists know that every winter some animals die yet, even under the most severe conditions, most survive. In the wild, animals rarely die of old age. In almost all instances, something other than old age causes mortality. Nature’s lessons aren’t always pleasant, but in reality, nature selects those animals best suited to survive and perpetuate the species. When it comes to deer, excessive populations can normally survive one or more mild winters even on submarginal range. If however, deer numbers are in excess of the carrying capacity, in some areas there will almost always be winter loss.
When well meaning people feel wild creatures are being threatened by harsh weather, they almost instinctively feel a strong and urgent need to assist wildlife, and feeding becomes an emotional issue. However, biologists discourage the artificial feeding of wildlife species such as deer because, biologically, it is an unsound practice. Biologists tell us that artificial feeding of deer simply doesn’t work. Nevertheless, people will still want to feed deer and other wild critters because it makes them feel good.
When deep snow and cold hamper deer movement it is often not the weather that poses the greatest threat to the animals. In severe weather conditions, in some areas deer can become more vulnerable to free roaming dogs, and not just wild strays, but house pets let out to run and exercise for a few hours. Deer, under these conditions, may already be exhausted from trying to cope with deep snow and crusted ice, and are no match for a free-running dog. Game officials suggest dog owners should ensure their pets are secured and pose no additional threat to deer and other wildlife when let out for exercise.
Wildlife populations here in New York, and elsewhere, can and will survive the extreme winter conditions that may continue to prevail. This has been nature’s way since the beginning of time. Who can forget last winter when nature dropped more than 40 inches of snow in some areas of the Southern Tier? Even with this amount of snow, there was no reported mass die-off of deer or other wildlife species. They managed.
In the long term, it is sound wildlife management practices and deer densities closer to their compatibility with overwinter carrying capacities that will limit wildlife losses due to severe weather conditions.