Deer and Moose Feeding
Feeding of white-tailed deer causes un-natural concentrations near the food source which can lead to ecological damage, damage to property, and increases the risk of transmission of disease between deer.
This summer DEC will publish a proposed regulation for public comment that would prohibit the feeding of deer and moose statewide. Updated regulations are needed to address concerns related to deer feeding while maintaining appropriate exemptions for agriculture, wildlife food plots, and 4-Poster devices. The proposed regulation will clarify and strengthen regulations that prohibit the feeding of deer and moose by:
- more explicitly defining bait or feed; and
- clarifying that incidental feeding such as the attraction of deer or moose to a birdfeeder would only be considered a violation if DEC had previously issued a written warning to the person responsible for the incidental feeding. This will allow DEC to respond appropriately to specific complaints of nuisance situations without limiting bird feeding in general.
Why does DEC recommend against feeding deer and moose?
This recommendation is in response to the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) being introduced into New York. The nature of CWD requires prompt and extraordinary actions to address the threat posed by this disease. The purpose is to prevent the introduction of this disease into New York, to restrict those activities that may increase the risk of the development or spread of CWD in New York and to protect the health of wild white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and wild moose (Alces alces) in New York.
Feeding these species artificially concentrates them in one location for extended periods of time. CWD is most likely transmitted from animal to animal by direct contact between animals, or indirectly through contact with waste food, urine, and feces that build up at feeding sites, although the exact transmittal mechanism is currently unknown. CWD was found in New York in 2005. This measure remains a precaution to help prevent the spread of CWD in the state. The incubation period for CWD can be five years or longer, and an outbreak among white-tailed deer or moose at feeding sites could spread the disease before clinically-ill individuals are observed. This would greatly hamper efforts to control the disease. Other diseases, such as Bovine Tuberculosis, can also be spread quickly at feeding sites, where animals are in close contact with each other and with waste products every day.
Another risk associated with feeding is the possibility that the infectious agent of CWD could be present in commercial feeds. Some commercial livestock feed may be produced using rendered animal parts, which could contain the infectious agent. If the agent is present in these foods it could infect any deer or moose that eats the food. Federal regulations in effect since 1997 require feeds containing mammalian protein to be labeled to prohibit them from being fed to any ruminants, including deer and elk.
Please note that it is illegal to feed deer or moose within 300 feet of a road.
Isn't feeding good for the deer and moose population?
Feeding can cause more animals to survive than the natural habitat can support, which can lead to long term degradation of the natural habitat. Animals being artificially fed also consume natural food in the adjoining area. With deer concentrated at feeding sites, the surrounding natural habitat can be severely overbrowsed. The browse plants can be damaged so that they produce smaller quantities of browse for many years, or can be completely eliminated. The result is a habitat that supports fewer animals, and a population that is dependent on artificial feeding.
In addition, some foods may be detrimental because they do not meet the nutritional requirements of deer or moose in winter. Both of these species are ruminants similar to a cow and have a multi-chambered stomach, with a more complicated digestive process. If food types are suddenly changed, it can take considerable time for the digestive process to adapt to the new food, during which time the animal receives little nutrition when it needs it most.
Especially with deer, feeding can also increase the number of deer-vehicle collisions if done near highways or increase nuisance problems if carried out near residences, orchards, nurseries and other agricultural operations.
Won't a lot of deer and moose starve if we have a severe winter with no feeding?
Moose are designed for winter! Their log legs allow them to move easily through deep snow and their thick coats of hollow-shafted hair and dense hide keep them warm, even at -40°F. Some deer will starve at traditional feeding sites because their population is artificially above the carrying capacity of the winter habitat. Moreover, the winter habitat surrounding the feeding site may be damaged from overbrowsing. If feeding is curtailed, some deer at traditional feeding sites will shift activity patterns to take advantage of better winter cover than that which existed at the feeding site. After several years with no deer feeding the deer population will again be in balance with the natural habitat. It is normal for some deer to starve during severe winters in northern forests, leaving the stronger deer to reproduce. Some young deer simply do not reach adequate body size and physical condition to survive average winter conditions. However, deer populations can recover following milder winters.
Aren't deer concentrated in winter yards naturally?
Deer concentration in winter yards is considered a natural behavior. The risk of disease transmission is lower in winter yards than at artificial feeding sites because feeding is dispersed, and the food is consumed and not replaced. At artificial feeding sites deer are in closer contact, and the food is replaced at the same location repeatedly, increasing the likelihood of direct contact between animals and more concentrated contamination of the ground with feces and urine.
What can be done to help deer through the winter?
Cutting trees and brush in deer winter yards makes the browse in the tops of the trees or brush accessible to deer. This browse is the food deer are adapted to eat in the winter. This cutting can only be done on private land with the permission of the landowner. It cannot be done on state forest preserve land, and requires permits on other state lands. The landowner can use the trunks of the trees for firewood or timber, leaving the tops for deer to eat. Anyone interested in providing browse to deer by cutting trees or brush should contact their regional DEC deer biologist for suggestions on tree species and quantities.
More about Deer and Moose Feeding:
- Cutting Browse for Deer Feeding - An explanation of the advantages and disadvantages of cutting browse and what kinds of vegetation would provide the best food supply for deer in winter.