Utah (ABC4) – We’ve all seen the “Please don’t feed the wildlife” signs, but how much damage are you actually doing if you do feed them?

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, DWR, is sending out a reminder to the public not to feed deer or other wildlife. 

Courtesy: Utah Division of Wildfire Resources

The reminder is being shared after corn kernels were discovered in the gut of a deer that died of chronic wasting disease in the Moab area in early 2020.

It is even illegal to bait some of Utah’s animals with the intent of hunting them.

Faith Heaton Jolley, Public Information Officer for the
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources tells ABC4 “a bill did just pass this past legislative session making it illegal to bait deer with the intent of hunting them.”

H.B. 295 Wildlife Modifications goes into effect on May 5, 2021.

According to DWR, asking people to not feed wildlife is not only for the animal’s benefit but also for public safety concerns.

The spread of chronic wasting disease among deer, elk, and moose, is potentially harmful to wildlife from introducing foods not in their typical diets.

What is chronic wasting disease? Officials with DWR say chronic wasting disease is a relatively rare but fatal, transmissible disease that affects the nervous systems of deer, elk, and moose. “It has been compared to bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cows, which is often called “Mad Cow Disease,” the DWR states. 

Recently, two mule deer were found dead in the yards of Moab residents and have tested positive for the disease, the DWR adds.

“Infected animals develop brain lesions, become emaciated, appear listless and have droopy ears, may salivate excessively, and eventually die. Infected animals ultimately lose their motor skills and eventually waste away and die from degeneration of the central nervous system,” as stated by the DWR. 

Infected animals can shed prions, which are protein-based infectious particles, in their urine, feces, and saliva, the DWR shares. Transmission of the disease may occur directly through contact with an infected animal or indirectly through environmental contamination. For example, a dead carcass can spread it to the soil.

“These prions are highly resistant to chemical and environmental degradation, and once the environment becomes contaminated with prions from shedding deer or infected carcasses, it can be a source of infection for years into the future,” the DWR adds. 

Because the prions are shed in saliva, urine, and feces and can persist in the environment for a long time, it is so easily transmitted. Feeding deer can cause large groups of them to congregate into one area, increasing the chance of the disease spreading from one animal to the next.

Chronic wasting disease is highly contagious among deer and currently, there are no available vaccines or treatments. 

Fortunately, the DWR shares, the disease is not widespread throughout Utah and is primarily found in a few counties in central and eastern Utah. It is taken very seriously. 

In addition to eliminating the spread of chronic wasting disease, feeding Utah’s wildlife also has other biological harms. 

Introducing the wrong type of food to wildlife can very harmful. 

According to the DWR, deer are ruminants- mammals that acquire nutrients from plant-based food by fermenting it in a specialized stomach before digestion. They have a four-part stomach, and each stomach chamber progressively breaks down woody, leafy, and grassy foods into smaller particles. 

Giving a deer food that it is not used to digesting can lead to the deer eating food that it cannot readily digest. In these situations, deer can even die from starvation with full stomachs.

Whenever someone feeds wildlife, those animals will frequently return to that area in search of more food. 

The DWR says the areas people will feed wildlife are often near highways or towns. “Concentrating deer and other wildlife near inhabited areas can sometimes result in increased traffic accidents and other human/wildlife conflicts,” the DWR states.

Attracting deer to a location can also attract predators, like cougars who might be following deer herds. 

Learn more about deer in Utah.