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Biologists keeping an eye on deer

Winter is the toughest time of the year for Utah's mule deer

Snow and cold temperatures have blanketed the places mule deer live in Utah. And that's brought Division of Wildlife Resources biologists out in force.

A buck mule deer in the snow in Utah.

Feeding deer can actually hurt the animals more than it helps them.

Photo by Bill Bates, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

As they do every winter, biologists will monitor the state's deer herds closely until winter ends. If conditions get too severe, the biologists are ready to feed deer specially designed pellets that will help them get through the winter.

To help the deer, biologists encourage you not to feed deer on your own.

Justin Shannon, big game coordinator for the DWR, says feeding deer can actually hurt the animals more than it helps them. "If winter conditions get too severe, though," Shannon says, "feeding deer can be worth the potential risks."

More information about the challenges feeding poses to deer is available online.

Monitoring five things

Shannon says biologists are monitoring five things:

  • The condition of the deer as they entered the winter
  • The amount of food available to the deer
  • How deep the snow is
  • How cold the temperature is
  • The amount of body fat they find on deer that have been killed along roads

If three or more of the five factors reach a critical point, biologists will consider feeding deer specially designed pellets. The pellets are formulated to fit the complex digestive system mule deer have.

Don't feed deer on your own

Shannon strongly advises you not to feed deer on your own. If feeding isn't done the right way, he says the following can happen:

  • Deer have complex and delicate digestive systems. If you feed the wrong foods to them, the deer can actually die with stomachs that are full of food.
  • Feeding deer congregates them in a smaller area. And that can lead to all kinds of problems for the deer:
    • Congregating deer in a small area increases the chance that the deer will pass diseases to each other.
    • When deer congregate to feed, it's "every deer for itself." The larger deer push the smaller deer — the fawns — aside. Fawns often end up receiving less food than they would have received if you had left the deer alone and not fed them.
    • Feeding deer near a road increases the chance the deer will be killed by cars.
    • In addition to eating what you're feeding them — which may or may not be good for them — deer will also eat other vegetation in and near the feeding area. This can lead to deer over-browsing the area. That over-browsing can damage the plants in the area for years to come.
    • Even after winter is over, deer will often stay close to the area where you fed them.

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