Don't Feed the Deer: The Unintended Consequences of Baiting and Feeding Wildlife

At the City of Urbandale, we understand that many residents have noble intentions when it comes to helping wildlife. However, we want to remind you that deer, elk, wild turkeys, and other game species rarely need human handouts of corn or other supplemental feed.

The reality is that beneath their fur and feathers is a complex coat of armor crafted by thousands if not millions of years of evolution. Unfortunately, what often endangers or kills wild animals are the well-intentioned but detrimental effects of feeding and baiting.

While providing piles of corn, hay, or other feed can be a "feel good" act, it often results in bad consequences. Disease, auto accidents, hunter conflicts, habitat loss, and animal behavior changes are all outcomes from feeding and baiting. It's not uncommon for wintering deer to eat themselves to death despite having reserves of fat.

Moreover, State and federal agencies spend many millions of dollars each year to prevent and contain Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), Bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis, and other diseases. Feeding and baiting can initiate or exacerbate these problems. To date, it has been impossible to eliminate a disease once established in free-ranging wild animals. Supplemental feeding congregates animals that would otherwise feed apart on natural foods. Tight concentrations of deer and elk, for example, dramatically increase the odds that an infected animal will spread CWD, Bovine TB or brucellosis via nose-to-nose contact, eating feed contaminated by another animal's disease-carrying saliva, or inhaling bacteria.

We ask that you "help" your local deer, elk, wild turkey, and other wildlife by not "helping" with handouts of food. It's the responsible thing to do. Big problems start with small handouts. Feeding deer makes them less wild, more vulnerable to disease, and subject to population increases above the land's carrying capacity.

Deer feeding on grass in city - Photo by Vladimir Kudinov