When the temperature drops and the snow piles up in drifts and covers the grass and brushes in the hills, people began to wonder, will the wildlife be okay?
Christina Schmidt, Wyoming Game and Fish public information specialist for the Sheridan region, said that feeding deer is illegal within the city limits of Sheridan, “Mule Deer have a specialized digestive system, and they do best on native forage. They cannot digest other feeds.” She said there are specific types of bacteria in their rumen are required to aid in the digestion of naturally occurring foods. Often, because their digestive system can’t adapt quickly enough, mule deer die with stomachs full of undigested feed.
She said that when humans feed deer, they learn to relay on supplemental feed, and teach their young to come to the easy food, and they do not learn how to forage for themselves in the winter months.
There are other problems in feeding deer as well. Attracting large groups to one area can increase the risk that diseases will spread. Feeding also invites cougars, coyotes, and other predators to your neighborhood. There have been incidents of mountain lions coming close to towns, and in some areas coyotes have attacked pets and even small children.
Schmidt explains other hazards of feeding wildlife, “Feeding deer in residential areas increase the chances of deer being hit by cars, and getting chased by dogs. Deer can also create problems by destroying ornamental plants and shrubs.”
Sheridan City Ordinance 6-40 states: It is unlawful for any person to knowingly or intentionally provide supplemental feed to the following wild animals and fowl: deer, antelope, elk, moose, turkeys, ducks, geese, pigeons, coyotes, bears, wolves, foxes, raccoons, skunks, and feral cats.
The term ‘supplemental feeds’ means human food, pelleted forage feed and hay, mineral supplements, grain, and birdseed, but does not include incidental food sources, lawns, gardens, or feed that the deer find as a result of a livestock owner feeding their livestock, or the practice of raising and harvesting grain for domestic livestock.
Also excepted are people who are feeding birds, and the deer or other animals find the excess food and eat it.
There is a fine for the unlawful feeding of wildlife within the city limits.
Schmidt did say that the best thing one can do for deer in the winter is to, “Provide open water. Water is a necessity in winter as well as summer. All wildlife benefit from having water.”
Open water can be provided by using an electric stock tank heater, chopping ice to open a water hole, or using heated water bowls. Bird bath heaters can also be used to give birds open, warm water.
Although feeding deer and other wildlife is not good for the wildlife, song birds benefit from having bird feeders and open water. Schmidt said that feeders should be kept clean, and good quality bird seed should be fed. Birds can be enjoyable to watch at the feeders, especially for house bound people. Depending on where you live, there can be a variety of birds that visit the feeders.