Why is Utah enacting emergency feeding policies for deer?

Utah’s impressive snowpack is great for the state’s water supply this year, but the deep snow depths also pose new challenges for struggling deer populations, particularly in northern Utah.

That’s why, for the first time in six years, Utah wildlife biologists have taken emergency measures to feed deer while reducing “repeated stress” that could negatively impact deer in the region, such as: B. Harassment from wildlife.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says it has issued emergency feeding guidelines for deer at 12 locations in Rich and Summit counties. On Friday, biologists and volunteers, including landowners, hunters and conservation groups, began feeding deer “specially formulated” pellets to compensate for natural food buried deep beneath the snow, said Jim Christensen, wildlife manager for the department’s northern region .

Christensen added that the division will only use the pellets for as long as they are needed. The department could expand the emergency area to other sites if deer conditions continue to be challenging. It was last implemented in 2017.

The agency still advises residents against laying out alfalfa, grass hay, or other possible foods that could cause serious problems.

“Deer eat hay. But if this is their only source of food in winter, it can be very difficult for them to digest. We often find dead deer with stomachs full of hay,” Christensen said in a press release Monday. “We appreciate it when people want to help the deer, but we strongly discourage feeding deer hay or anything else.

A photo of "specially formulated" Pellets laid out by biologists and volunteers in parts of Rich and Summit counties on Friday.

A photo of the “specially formulated” pellets laid out by biologists and volunteers in parts of Rich and Summit counties on Friday.

Utah Department of Wildlife Resources

Utah’s statewide mountain snowpack is currently 183% of normal for this point in the water year, which began Oct. 1, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The snowpack basins in the northeastern state range from 150% to 197% of normal, with totals exceeding the statewide value. The total snow depths in the region also remain well above normal.

This could pose new challenges for Utah’s already struggling deer, says Dax Mangus, big game coordinator at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Biologists are still working on a 2023 deer population estimate, but the agency estimated there were 305,700 deer in the state in 2022, nearly 100,000 below their population goal. Officials said the state’s ongoing drought was a key reason for the decline, as it depletes food and water in a natural habitat.

Winter is also a tough time for deer as they rely heavily on fat reserves built up from whatever food is available during the warmer months. Mangus explained that mule deer have learned to mostly adapt to harsh weather, but this winter is one of those times that’s “so severe” that emergency feeding is required.

“Even with emergency feeding, we still anticipate the loss of some fawns and sick or old animals,” he said.

Chronic wasting disease, a disease that affects a deer’s nervous system, is another problem affecting the deer population, which is why there will be no emergency feeding in areas where the disease has been found in deer, wildlife officials said. The disease spreads through close contact between deer, which can be done by laying out pellets.

Meanwhile, agency officials added on Monday that conservation officials will step up patrols in the area to reduce wildlife harassment. It is more likely that there will be interactions with wildlife in the coming weeks, as people begin “scale hunting” for antlers.

David Beveridge of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Lt. David Beveridge said intentional harassment of wildlife is a Class B offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and even jail time. He added that people can report cases through the agency’s hotline at 1-800-662-3337, by texting 847411 or online.


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