EPHRATA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) plans to discontinue its winter deer-feeding program in the Chiliwist Wildlife Area, where native vegetation is returning after wildfires in the 1990s and nearby orchards have become less susceptible to deer damage.
While WDFW will continue to help orchard owners with isolated deer-damage problems through other means, a scheduled winter-feeding program is no longer necessary in the area, WDFW wildlife biologists say.
For most of the past 15 winters, WDFW has provided hay and feed pellets for deer on the wildlife area and other local properties. But while the supplemental feeding provided a temporary replacement for lost forage land, artificial feeding is not a good long-term practice for the animals or their habitat, said Matt Monda, WDFW regional wildlife manager.
“Concentrating deer at feeding stations not only impacts natural vegetation, it also makes the animals more vulnerable to disease, predation, vehicle traffic and illegal hunting,” Monda explained.
WDFW will continue to use emergency supplemental feeding in response to unusual events such as wild fires, floods and extreme winter conditions, Monda added.
In the Chiliwist area, WDFW will continue to help orchard owners who experience deer damage, said Capt. Steve Dauma, WDFW’s lead regional enforcement official.
Strategies include damage-control hunt permits, hazing, cost-share fencing when funds are available and payment for damage when warranted.
But many area orchards have become less vulnerable to deer damage since the feeding program began, Dauma said.
“Fruit trees in the area have matured and become less susceptible to deer damage since the deer-feeding program was started, and an increasing number of orchards have been fenced,” he said.
Most of the Chiliwist’s 5,000 acres are located in the Chiliwist Creek watershed west and south of the town of Malott, southwest of Omak. The area is bordered by private lands and property owned by the Bureau of Land Management and state Department of Natural Resources. Much of the private land between the wildlife area and the Okanogan River is in orchards.