A dead deer was recently found in the San Luis Valley with stomach contents containing corn and grain. This prompted a warning from Colorado Parks & Wildlife against feeding wild animals, especially during the winter and early-spring months.
UPDATE: This is an article originally published in March 2019. We’re resharing it because it’s still relevant.
One major issue that comes along with feeding wildlife is that they’re generally being fed something that’s not part of their diet. When these animals consume something that they can’t digest, it can be fatal. Feeding wild animals can also cause them to be more invasive in human communities, something that often leads to euthanization, especially among bears.
Feeding big game in Colorado is also illegal year round. There are many reasons for this, but one is that when a regular food source becomes available it causes more animals to interact more closely. This makes the spread of disease a much larger risk. It can be seen in the current situation of the always-fatal chronic wasting disease that’s sweeping through deer populations across the state.
Unnatural food sources can also pull animals from their natural habitat and impact migratory patterns that are essential to an animal’s livelihood and the existence of a species.
This problem is amplified in colder months when animals are already low on energy due to how many animals eat a lot prior to winter, living on excess fat until spring rolls around. While wild animals in Colorado are totally capable of handing the winter weather, introducing a non-natural food source can encourage them to move more than they naturally would during this season. This means that they’re burning more fuel than they’ve already stored, something that can be deadly.
Here’s a quote from Colorado Parks & Wildlife about how feeding animals in the winter can leave the population of an entire species worse off:
“People want to help. But the reality of it is that feeding doesn’t help wildlife, it harms them,” DelPiccolo said. “Winter is a tough time of year, and it has always been how nature eliminates the sick, the weak and less-fit animals from the population. It’s ironic, but the toughest time of the year is what makes wildlife populations healthy.”
If you encounter a wild animal, keep your distance and respect its natural existence. Even an animal that’s already starving will likely be worse off with unnatural food.