SALT LAKE CITY — Deer, moose, and other wildlife often make their way into neighborhoods and and can be fascinating to watch, but the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources want to remind the public that feeding these animals raises a host of public safety concerns.
It's not illegal to do so (though certain cities do have no feeding ordinances) but it can spread chronic wasting disease and encourage these animals to return for more food, potentially causing traffic accidents or dangerous interactions with humans or other animals.
Feeding deer can attract predators such as cougars, which follow deer herds.
“Help yourself and the wildlife by allowing them to remain wild, and avoid conflicts by not feeding them,” said DWR Big Game Coordinator Covy Jones.
Of particular concern is the spread of chronic wasting disease, a relatively rare, but fatal transmissible disease that affects the nervous systems of deer, elk and moose.
It's caused by a protein particle, called a prion, the same particle that causes mad cow disease.
Infected animals may shed prions in their bodily fluids, transmitting the disease through direct contact or environmental contamination.
A dead carcass can contaminate the soil, and prions remaining can stay infectious for years.
Feeding deer can cause large groups of them to crowd together in one area, increasing the chance of the disease spreading from one animal to the next.
“Because the disease is so contagious, it is essential that residents do not feed deer or put out food that will attract them,” said DWR Veterinarian Ginger Stout.
“This includes putting out corn, hay, dog food or birdseed that deer might easily access. Although it may seem like a beneficial thing to do during the winter months, feeding deer actually accelerates the spread of chronic wasting disease because it causes the deer to congregate.”
Fortunately, the disease is not widespread throughout Utah, and is primarily found in a few counties in central, northeastern and southeastern Utah.
Any deer that looks sick (has trouble walking, drools, has drooping ears or looks emaciated) should be reported to the nearest DWR office.
Feeding deer a diet that are not used to consuming can also be deadly. During the winter, deer primarily feed on sagebrush and other woody plants. Suddenly changing a deer's diet can easily lead to the deer eating food that it cannot readily digest. In these situations, deer often die from starvation with full stomachs.
Find more tips on how to avoid conflicts with wildlife on the Wild Aware Utah website.