DWR implements emergency deer feeding in parts of northern Utah, due to deep snow and poor deer condition
Ogden — Deep snow has made it difficult for deer to find food in parts of Rich and Summit counties, and recent health checks of big game in those areas has shown below average body fat conditions for the deer. As a result, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is taking a two-pronged approach to help the deer out in those areas:
- Biologists have implemented emergency deer feeding. Specially designed pellets will be distributed in specific areas. The pellets match the unique nutritional needs and digestive system of deer.
- Conservation officers are conducting additional patrols to help reduce the repeated stress that people may be putting on deer in those areas.
DWR biologists and volunteers — mostly landowners and hunters from local conservation groups — started feeding deer at 11 locations in Rich County on Jan. 20. Feed will also be distributed for deer at one location in Summit County.
DWR biologists have been monitoring the condition of the deer, as well as snow depths and winter temperatures, across Utah since early December. These monitoring efforts include body condition and health assessments conducted during the big game captures via helicopter that take place each year from December to March. Biologists measure and record overall deer condition, body fat levels and fawn weights as the animals enter into the winter season.
"In the areas where we're feeding, the vegetation that deer eat in the winter is completely covered by snow," DWR Northern Region Wildlife Manager Jim Christensen said.
Biologists are feeding the deer specially formulated pellets that meet the nutritional needs of deer when natural forage becomes temporarily unavailable. The pellets are the only item biologists will feed the deer — alfalfa, grass hay or other products will not be used.
"Deer will eat hay, but if that is their only source of feed during the winter they can have a very difficult time digesting it," Christensen said. "We often find dead deer with stomachs filled with hay. We appreciate people wanting to help the deer, but we strongly discourage people from feeding hay or other things to deer. These are special circumstances that follow Division policies, involve trained professionals and utilize specialized feed. We still recommend that the public doesn't feed wildlife, due to safety concerns, among other things."
DWR biologists will continue monitoring winter conditions and the condition of the deer across Utah and may feed deer in additional locations, if the need arises. However, deer feeding will not happen in areas where chronic wasting disease has been found.
"Chronic wasting disease is fatal to deer that contract it, and it's highly contagious," DWR Big Game Coordinator Dax Mangus said. "Congregating deer at a feeding location increases the chance that a deer with chronic wasting disease will pass it on to other deer. The short-term benefits of feeding do not outweigh the negative long-term consequences of spreading chronic wasting disease in a highly congregated deer population."
The decision to feed deer in Rich and Summit counties was made following guidelines in the DWR's Emergency Winter Big Game Feeding policy. The last time the DWR implemented emergency deer feeding was in 2017.
"Mule deer have evolved with harsh weather, and a few deer dying in years with severe weather is expected," Mangus said. "This natural cycle can actually benefit a deer population by removing sick animals and older animals that aren't contributing to the population through reproduction. However, there are times and areas when winter weather is so severe that it becomes necessary to implement emergency feeding to protect adult does, which are the reproductive segment of the deer population. Even with emergency feeding, we still anticipate the loss of some fawns and sick or old animals."
Patrolling for wildlife harassment
Winter is the most difficult time of the year for deer. Since food is often covered by snow and can be difficult to find, deer have to live largely on fat reserves they built up during the warmer months. If the animals are receiving constant pressure from people and repeatedly having to run or move, the animal has to use up those fat reserves and energy that it needs to make it through the winter.
"We strongly encourage people — especially those who might be searching for shed antlers this winter — to give the animals plenty of space," Christensen said.
To help protect the deer, DWR conservation officers in northern Utah are doing extra patrols in areas where deer congregate in the winter. Intentionally harassing wildlife is a Class B misdemeanor in Utah. Those cited face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
"Our officers can't be everywhere, so we encourage those who spot people harassing deer or any type of wildlife to contact us," DWR Northern Region Lt. David Beveridge said.
You can report wildlife harassment to a conservation officer any of the following ways: