North Dakota Game and Fish Department
Tough winter conditions thus far in North Dakota have some citizens concerned about the stress on wildlife.
Kevin Kading, state Game and Fish Department private land section leader, said harsh winters often generate conversations and questions about feeding wildlife, particularly deer and pheasants.
“The department does not promote winter feeding and does not have a winter-feeding program,” Kading said. “We recognize that many people care deeply about wildlife, and it can be difficult to watch nature play out, but feeding operations, good intentions and all, can actually do more harm for wildlife than good.”
Supplemental winter feeding does not benefit entire populations. Individuals and smaller groups of animals may receive some benefit, but often there are negative impacts such as congregating animals, drawing animals from long distances and away from good winter cover, increased predation, disease concerns, spreading of noxious weeds and feeding costs.
A poorly conducted feeding operation can kill more animals than it helps. For example, feeding animals on or near roadways can lead to wildlife-vehicle collisions. Providing feed that is too “hot” for deer, such as corn, which is high in sugars and starch, can lead to acidosis, rumenitis and ultimately death. And even individuals with the best of intentions who start feeding wildlife early in the winter often stop due to the amount of time and expense required, leading to the loss of animals that have become dependent on the handouts.
While it’s not uncommon for wildlife to die from exposure to cold, they rarely die from starvation. Knowing this, the department promotes habitat development that can provide critical winter thermal cover. Food plots should also be considered and planted near adequate winter cover. One alternative to feeding wildlife is for landowners, wildlife clubs and others to plow open areas of harvested grain or row crop fields to allow animals access to waste grains and other materials. These areas are also the first to melt when there is a break in the weather.