Now that winter is showing its face in the form of snow, many of the big game animals in Northwest Colorado have either moved or will move to lower elevations. The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) is urging people not to feed the winter travelers that will come through more urban and residential areas.
One reason people may want to think twice before throwing that extra bale of hay for the wild animals around their property is it could earn them a ticket.
"There's many good reasons not to feed big game, besides the fact that it's illegal," said Rick Spowart, district wildlife manager for the DOW in Estes Park. "Feeding big game concentrates animals and increases their chances of spreading disease, it habituates them to humans and can very often lead to property damage."
Feeding big game animals (deer, elk or bighorn sheep) leads them to become concentrated in one area, the risk of animals spreading disease to each other increases dramatically, according to the DOW. In natural feeding conditions, big game animals spread out in areas they are feeding. When people feed animals, that natural behavior is disrupted and animals crowd together around the food source, increasing contact between animals and increasing chances for spreading disease.
Another reason the DOW discourages artificial feeding of big game is it causes animals to loose their natural fear of humans and view them as a food source. The idea that a certain backyard or person is a source for food can become instilled in a mature animal's mind and that can be passed to young animals due to the natural reaction of young animals following older ones to food sources. Eventually, this can lead to changed migration routes and stopping in and around residential areas where animals have learned to receive a free handout.
Artificial feeding can also lead to illness or death in big game animals because their digestive systems are not used to what is on the handout menu. According to the DOW, the digestive systems of deer and elk are not normally conditioned to eating high-protein grains or hay. Often the animals have trouble digesting such food and it can become impacted in the animals' digestive tracts or create toxins which can injure or kill the animals.
"People need to be aware of the consequences of their kind-hearted efforts when they feed big game," said Liza Moore, district wildlife manager. "In practically every situation, feeding ends up being harmful to the animals, not helpful."