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WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE     Print Version
NEWS RELEASE
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091


January 03, 1997
Contact: Madonna Luers, (509) 456-4073

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Fish & Wildlife looking for funds to feed winter-stressed deer, elk

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is looking for emergency funds to feed deer and elk herds at risk due to severe winter conditions in the central part of the state.

WDFW is seeking help from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Federal Commodities Exchange Program, which may be a source of surplus grain products that can be used to create pellet food for deer.

The department also has set up a special account to collect public donations to help cover supplies and services necessary to maintain the feeding program for the next three months. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a national non-profit group based in Montana, has offered $25,000 to assist with Washington's winter elk feeding.

Deep snow, crusted over with ice from freezing rains and prolonged low temperatures, has covered most natural forage. Deer and elk have been congregating in areas where they are feeding on and causing damage to haystacks, orchards, and other property, and increasing vehicle collision problems on roads.

WDFW's traditional elk winter feeding stations on the Oak Creek Wildlife Area northwest of Yakima are drawing more than 8,000 elk -- almost twice the number of a normal winter. At a rate of about 50 tons of hay each day, WDFW supplies will be exhausted in the next few weeks. Elk feeding also is under way on the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area south of Ellensburg, where the animals have been congregating. The feeding program began six weeks early this year due to the severe weather.

Mule deer are being fed in the Entiat/Chelan Wildlife Area north of Wenatchee, in Chelan County where habitat was lost to recent wildfires and the Chiliwist Area in central Okanogan County. In other areas of central Washington hungry mule deer are causing damage to orchards and agricultural crops and are congregating on or near roads. To address those problems, WDFW officials are starting to feed deer in the Palisades area of Douglas County, the Methow and Okanogan valleys in Okanogan County, the Wenatchee Valley in Chelan County, northern Grant County, and a few areas throughout Yakima and Kittitas counties.

"Usually we don't feed deer and elk beyond normal winter feeding sites like Oak Creek where the original intent was to make up for lost winter range on private land," explained WDFW assistant director Dave Brittell. "But this is an unusually early and severe winter, with snow depths of four to five feet and extended low temperatures. Winter feeding doesn't save all deer and elk, but these harsh conditions have created unusual circumstances."

Brittell said department offices have received offers of help from the general public, so a fund has been set up to collect donations for the central Washington feeding sites. At current feed prices and daily consumption rates, Brittell calculated that $15 would feed one deer for about a month. Donations of any amount can be mailed to WDFW General Accounting at 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. Checks should be made payable to WDFW Winter Feeding Program. Interested persons can also call 360-902-2515 for more information about winter feeding donations.

"We can't feed all the deer, elk and other wildlife stressed by this unusually severe winter," Brittell said. "We're addressing areas where herds are most at risk and where damage and public safety are the biggest problems."

Brittell said that if individuals want to feed deer or other wildlife on their own property this winter, the time commitment and expense, should be considered. Once the feeding starts it must continue until natural foods become available. Those and other details of feeding are covered in a WDFW fact sheet "Winter Wildlife Feeding" available at department offices (attached).

"We know we'll still lose many animals to a winter like this," Brittell said. "It's the way nature balances populations. And when we lose 30,000 acres of habitat a year in this state, feeding wildlife during winter is no quick-fix. But in a record-breaking winter like this, we have to do what we can."

Winter Wildlife Feeding

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) understands the desire to feed animals during winter, but wants to remind you that it can be a big commitment.

The best way for deer and other wildlife to survive a severe winter is to have a healthy supply of natural food and cover. Supplemental feeding can sometimes help some animals when deep snow, ice cover, and abnormally cold temperatures persist, but there are some problems with doing so.

Alfalfa hay or pellets are the most commonly available feed put out for deer, but it takes a while for the animals' digestive systems to adjust to the change in diet from their natural browse. If deer don't have enough fat reserves to carry them through the adjustment period they can die of starvation with a belly full of alfalfa.

There are several other drawbacks. If feeding areas draw deer across highways or other well-traveled roads, the possibility of dangerous collisions increases. A concentration of deer at a feeder can make them more vulnerable to predation or poaching. Deer drawn to provided feed can also end up damaging crops, shrubs and trees, or other property of yours or your neighbors, especially if the feed supply is not kept up when the expense becomes too much.

One white-tailed deer can consume three to four pounds of alfalfa pellets each day; at approximately 12 cents per pound, one deer could cost nearly $15 a month to feed. Deer accustomed to such feed will need it through March or April, making a feed station started today at least a four-month-long undertaking.

So the question becomes "To feed or not to feed?" And there's no easy answer. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife neither encourages nor discourages feeding of deer and other wildlife. Biologists know that even the most aggressive feeding programs affect a very small portion of the deer population as a whole. The department does not provide feed for private individuals to use, but it does recognize that many people like to feed wildlife. When you see hungry deer in deep snow, you want to help and that's commendable. You should, however, understand all the pitfalls before you get started.

WDFW itself regularly winter feeds a few populations of deer, elk, and bighorn sheep, but usually for at least a couple of specific purposes: to control agricultural crop damage in traditional areas, to keep animals available for capture, health monitoring, and transplant, and to provide public viewing and learning experiences. Such WDFW winter feeding stations are at Oak Creek Wildlife Area and Clemens Mountain near Yakima and Sullivan Lake northeast of Spokane. (Ask for individual brochures on these sites for more details.)

Sometimes WDFW initiates emergency winter feeding in other areas when winter range for deer or other wildlife has been lost to wildfires, or when persistent severe conditions start drawing deer into private orchards or other cropland where they haven't been a regular problem before. In these situations only, the department sometimes provides feed in compensation for crops consumed by deer or other wildlife.

WDFW's Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary program packet, (which can be obtained for $5 from the department's Mill Creek or Spokane offices), includes information about supplemental feeding of birds and other urban/suburban wildlife. While some studies show that such backyard bird feeding can be beneficial to populations of some species, its greater benefit is human viewing enjoyment and increased knowledge and appreciation of birds and other wildlife.