Thursday, February 16, 2012

Supplemental & Recreational Wildlife Feeding-A Deeper Look

Bull 36 Spring 2005: He lived over 17 years.

In the last post we briefly mentioned the controversial subjects of supplemental and recreational feeding, and linked to a previous post on the matter.  What has always bothered me most is the lack of honesty in discussing this subject.  Critics of feeding often seize on the worst possible case scenario, in which a large amount of corn is suddenly made available to an animal that has been subsisting on a diet of grasses and woody browse, which may result in the death of the animal from rumen acidosis.

While researching this subject some time ago I came upon an interesting exchange between two ex members of the Pennsylvania Game Commission Board of Directors.  In the case at hand,  Roxane Palone, past president, and former board member addressed the subject in a March 31, 2011 post on the Skunk In The Woodpile Blog, " PA Game Commission response to CWD threat".  While this post is mostly focused on CWD (chronic wasting disease) it does address several other factors as well, including rumen acidosis. It is recommended that you read this post in its' entirety.

Ms. Palone states, "There are several risk factors that will cause a state to become CWD positive. These include an area’s proximity to deer farms or wild populations that have been infected, areas with a history of receiving imports from CWD infected regions, and areas allowing imports of hunter-killed carcasses from CWD infected regions. Risks of CWD becoming established in an area are magnified where there are high deer densities, a history of CWD animals or contaminated soil, and where artificial feeding occurs.'

She then goes on to advance the case for a ban on feeding whitetail deer.

"Pennsylvania has banned the feeding of bears and elk, but the law is hard to enforce because feeding of deer is allowed. Residents who are caught feeding can use the fall back excuse that they are feeding deer. In some cases where the feeding of elk has been proven, district justices have been unwilling to pass a guilty verdict."

Another former commissioner, Russ Schleiden weighed in on the matter in a comment also dated March 31, 2011, in which he states  "Everytime I hear people from the PGC, AG field and Vets included, talk about CWD they invariably hint at vicinity of captive deer or feeding of wild deer. Think about it, PA has been the most agressive of all states about getting a CWD monitouring program started. We’ve been testing both wild and captive deer for over 7 years now and haven’t found any yet. PA has more registared deer farmers than most of the other states combined, that have the disease. I would guess that 10s of thousands of PA whitetails ( wild & captive) have tested for CWD and none have been positive yet. In fact I’m certain there have been far more captive deer tested in PA than wild. I just sent 10 deer to the lab, ages 1yr thru 10 yrs. Captive deer are fed by humans in a concentrated area…yet no CWD thus far. I suspect that those who don’t want wild feeding are using the CWD as an additional excuse. That is the very thing that give our people in the science field a reason to be doubted." 

Schleiden goes on to say, "In the interest of disclosure. I have been raising captive deer and elk since about 1993. I was one of the first to volunteer for CWD testing before it was made mandatory and have been complying ever since. I also have a hunting camp with a feeder about 2 miles from my home. I love to go there and watch the wild deer come into the feeder during the Jan, Feb. and March months".

 At this point I posted a comment, which I will re-post today in its' entirety as it does a decent job of covering many of my thoughts about the feeding issue.

This is a subject that has troubled me greatly for the last few years. At the level at which much feeding is done, I do not think that it attracts vast numbers of deer, but in my experience it is anywhere from one to three extended family groups and these are deer that are ordinarily in the general area anyway, it simply makes them more visible for observation. In my experience the bucks that are usually seen at a feeding area are the yearlings and sometimes 2 yr olds that do not disperse as most do by that time, but in most cases these bucks are traveling with their extended family group and would likely be doing so regardless of feeding.

When the rut arrives a mature buck is likely going to cover a lot of ground searching for does in heat which gives the potential for him to carry disease into an area, but the does are going to be there whether they are browsing in the forest, eating supplemental feed, or eating in food plots and deer are going to be interacting socially by nuzzling, grooming, etc. wherever they might be.

As far as disease goes, I have not seen one deer die from rumen acidosis or any other disease, as a result of modest feeding. It may be different where large truck loads of corn are dumped, but I don't think that most feeding is done at this level. Artificial feeding does have the potential to concentrate animals, but so does food plots--although possibly not to as great of an extent. Are we going to outlaw food plots and stop land management practices on SGLs as well?

In my mind such legislation simply creates another area for contention, and another class of game law violator. Many would likely ignore the law as a substantial amount seems to do with the elk feeding. In the case of the elk, it seems that the disease issue is simply the "smoking gun" so as to speak that was used to reinforce the "need" for a feeding ban. There seems to be no doubt that some elk have died from rumen acidosis, but when I first went to Elk County a gentleman fed elk near what is now the Gilbert Viewing Area. He did not feed by the truck load, but he fed daily and I never heard about dead elk being found there. Also the famous town bull that was put down after he fell on the ice this winter, ate a lot of corn during his life and lived more than 17 years. The biggest problem really seemed to be that the feeding attracted the elk to town and made them less fearful of humans.

Like Mr. Schleiden I will state for the record that I do feed deer and I enjoy observing, and photographing them more than any thing I have ever done in the outdoors, yet by the stroke of a pen this enjoyment can be substantially curtailed. I could support this if it would make a major difference in protecting the herd from CWD, but I have serious reservations about such a law for the reasons I stated above.


For the record, I am not advocating that anyone rush out and start feeding wildlife, but the activity should be considered in the proper perspective and the circumstances under which it takes place. I recall reading comments on an article where the author touted the likelihood that deer would die or become seriously ill from eating corn placed for them.  This garnered several comments covering a wide spectrum of opinion.  Some were genuinely sickened that they had probably killed the animals they were trying to help and enjoyed watching, which of course is the point I am trying to make. The author had these people upset and worrying about something that was not likely going to happen--at least for the reason that he said. On the other hand many of the same persons who oppose feeding in any form or degree, are in favor of more and longer hunting seasons, liberalized bag limits, and more special seasons  for various types of weapons. While it is never spelled out that plainly, it is not too hard to come away with the idea that the only acceptable use of wildlife is to shoot as much as the law legally permits.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.