SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – As deep snowfall pushes deer, elk, and other animals into lower-elevation areas in the search for food, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is putting out the reminder that it is illegal for dogs to chase and harass big game animals.

According to DWR, there have been several incidents recently where deer and other big game animals were chased by family dogs. In one incident, an elk was reportedly injured.

Wildlife reportedly struggles in mid-winter and early spring as body fat reserves built up over the previous summer begin to run low. During this time, wildlife begins hunting more for food, but as many resources in the higher elevations are covered by snow, wildlife will come off the mountains. DWR officials said in a statement that this is a vulnerable time for wildlife animals.

“If they get chased, it uses up energy they may need to survive,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Big Game Coordinator Dax Mangus said. “These animals are already depleted, and they can’t afford to waste energy. If you or a pet force them to move away from where they are trying to feed, it could be harmful and impact their survival.”

DWR recommends dog owners keep their pets leashed in and under control when appropriate, as they warn dogs may act on instinct to chase deer and elk. They also warn the wildlife animals could also act in self-defense against a chasing threat.

“Wildlife is often unpredictable and may injure or kill a dog seen as threatening,” said Mangus.

Humans could also pose a threat to dogs giving chase to big game animals. As part of its warning, DWR reminds dog owners that it would be legal for someone to injure or kill a dog chasing hoofed protected wildlife.

Wild Aware Utah, a program dedicated to educating Utahns about wildlife awareness and safety, provided tips on how to keep dogs and wildlife safe, whether while hiking or in your yard:

  • Keep your dog’s vaccinations up to date.
  • Be aware that moose can be especially aggressive toward dogs.
  • Always supervise pets when outdoors.
  • Avoid going near den sites and thick vegetation.
  • If you find a dead animal, leave the area – it could be a kill that a cougar is guarding.
  • Make noise while hiking.
  • Do not allow dogs to “play with” or chase wildlife.

For more information, visit Wild Aware Utah’s website or the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ website.