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Killing them with kindness

Register • Dec 26, 2013 at 1:48 PM

This winter, as the snow falls, there are those of us who begin to think about our wildlife friends having to persevere through harsh weather and a lack of food. 

In our hearts, we want to make this difficult time a little easier for the beautiful animals that inhabit our state.  The simplest way to do this is to offer them food.  While this may seem harmless, the consequences of feeding wildlife are far reaching and it rarely works out for either party.  In particular, feeding deer this time of year has many unforeseen results that may surprise you. 

Here are just a few of them: 

DISEASE: When we provide food for deer it causes them to gather in much larger groups than they normally would during the winter (and even the summer) months.  While this might not seem like such a bad thing, it actually aides in the spread of many terrible and deadly diseases in the herd.  Devastating and deadly diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease are on the rise due to ever growing populations and higher instances of dense congregations during feedings.

DIGESTION:  Believe it or not, deer have very sensitive digestive systems.  It takes around 2 to 3 weeks for a deer to adapt to different diets.  In the spring, they slowly begin to eat foods higher in carbohydrates which changes the normal bacterial flora and pH of their stomachs and intestines to help them to digest their food properly.  In the fall, their digestive systems have to adapt to breaking down woodier vegetation.  This means if you suddenly add corn (which is very high in carbs) to their diet in the winter, they are unable to properly digest it which leads to complications like acidosis.  Unfortunately, in many cases, this can lead to the death of the very animal you are trying to help.  Keep in mind that even in the summer corn is not a great food for wildlife.  It is a basically a filler that lacks many essential nutrients they require to thrive.

NATURAL SELECTION:  It would be nice if the world were more like a Disney movie but unfortunately, it is not.  For a species to thrive, death is just as important as life is.  Seems like a contradiction doesn’t it?  In the winter, weaker animals who are not as good at finding food often meet with their demise.  While it deeply saddens our hearts to think of this, it is a vitally important cog in the machine that is the natural world.  By weeding out the genetically unhealthy or weak, those inferior traits do not get the chance to be passed on to the next generation.  That means that the herd becomes stronger as a whole and the chances that the species will prosper greatly increases.

I know, I know, after reading this, you’re thinking to yourself “But I really want to help!”  You still can!  You do not have to directly feed a wild animal to help them.  If you have a yard and live near an area where you occasionally see deer, there are ways to help them.  Our backyards are habitats and it is your choice as to how inviting that habitat is.  If you would like for your yard to be a place where deer can rest, you can plant mast-bearing trees and shrubs to offer a more natural diet and coniferous trees in order to provide shelter.  By turning your yard into deer habitat you allow the deer to maintain their natural behaviors and their wild spirit while still being able to sit in your nice, warm, cozy home with a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy a glimpse into the profoundly beautiful and wild world of nature.  (Please do not do this if you live in a city or a very urbanized area however.  By attracting deer you can cause them to be hit by vehicles or to raid your neighbor’s garden which can lead to serious urban wildlife conflicts.  It is important that we do what is best for our local wildlife.)

~Back to the Wild

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