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Deer and Moose Feeding

Feeding of white-tailed deer causes unnatural concentrations near the food source which can lead to ecological damage, damage to property, and an increased risk of transmission of disease between deer.

NYS Environmental Conservation Law prohibits:

  • feeding or enticing deer to be fed within 300 feet of public road; and
  • establishing a salt lick on land inhabited by deer.

NYS Codes, Rules and Regulations Part 189 further prohibit feeding of wild deer or moose except for several specific circumstances (e.g., agriculture, wildlife food plots, raising livestock, DEC permitted research, or management activities).

DEC intends to publish a proposed regulation for public comment that would update and reinforce the statewide prohibition on the feeding of deer and moose. 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?

Prohibiting the feeding of wild deer and moose is a best management approach to reduce risks associated with communicable wildlife diseases, minimize conflicts with deer, and protect wildlife habitats. Supplemental feeding can negatively affect deer behavior, leading to increased social conflict among deer, habituation of deer to human presence, and alteration of migratory movements to critical wintering areas. Importantly, supplemental feeding can increase deer populations above ecologically sustainable levels, resulting in significant harm to local biodiversity and forest health.

Isn't feeding good for the deer and moose population?

Feeding can cause more animals to survive than the natural habitat can support. This 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 this 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. It can also 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 long legs allow them to move easily through deep snow. 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. When summer and fall habitats are maintained in good quality, deer are better prepared to survive harsh winter conditions.

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. 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.

Can salt, mineral blocks, powders or liquids, or other foods be used to attract deer to game cameras?

No, except by permit issued by DEC for research or management.

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.
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