Concord, NH – As winter spreads more snow across the Granite State, deer have changed their activity patterns and more numerous and larger groups of deer are being observed. New Hampshire Fish and Game Department Deer Project Leader Becky Fuda offered the following warning to anyone thinking about feeding deer.
“Although people may feel badly for deer and want to help, the Fish and Game Department would like to remind the public to never feed deer as it may actually harm them,” said Fuda.
The deer are all right, even in the winter. Deer have developed several adaptations to help them survive severe winters, which means they do not need supplemental food. Deer have a highly insulative winter coat to keep them warm, they store large amounts of body fat to use as energy reserves, they will voluntarily reduce both their food intake and daily activity to conserve energy, and most importantly, they migrate to specialized habitats known as deer yards.
Since over 80% of the state’s forestland is privately owned, much of the Department’s management of this critical habitat is done through cooperative agreements with landowners. Feeding deer also puts these management efforts at risk by drawing deer out of wintering habitat and removing the incentive for private landowners to conserve and manage deer yards on their property. It is tough to convince a landowner to expend money and resources managing a deer yard if all the deer have been drawn out to supplemental feed sites.
Conservation and management of natural winter habitat is the key to long-term survival of deer in the Granite State, not the placement of human-provided food sources.
Supplemental feeding can harm our deer. Although most people who feed deer are well intentioned, they do not realize there are a number of potential negative consequences that are associated with feeding deer.
Feeding deer the wrong type of food or at the wrong time can lead to their sickness and death. This was the case in 2015, when twelve deer were found dead around a feed site in South Hampton from being fed food they could not digest. This winter, NH Fish and Game biologists and Conservation Officers have observed three sick deer in the Bow/Goffstown area. One deer died and was collected for necropsy. Lab results are pending, but biologists fear that the deer may have become sick as a result of human feeding.
“Sudden increases in snow depth can cause people to become concerned for deer and result in the sudden introduction of supplemental food for deer,” said Fuda. “However, because deer are ruminants, they process food differently than other animals.”
Deer depend on microorganisms in their stomach to aid in digestion. As a deer’s diet naturally and gradually changes with the seasons, so do the microorganisms that are required to help digest those foods. This gradual change in microorganisms can take several weeks. A rapid transition from a high-fiber diet of naturally woody browse to human-provided foods high in carbohydrates can cause a rapid change in a deer’s stomach chemistry, disrupting the microorganisms present. This can reduce the deer’s ability to properly digest food and cause the release of toxins which are then absorbed into the deer’s system. Many of the most common supplemental foods people provide deer with in winter are high in starches and they create a great risk for deer.
“Aside from death directly associated with feeding, several other negative consequences are associated with winter feeding of deer,” added Fuda. “These can include an increased likelihood of vehicle collisions, over-browsing of local vegetation and ornamental plants, increased risk of predation, and an increased risk of disease transmission, which is why Fish and Game strongly discourages the practice.”
For more information, including short videos, on the risks associated with feeding deer, visit www.wildnh.com/wildlife/do-not-feed-deer.html.