Feeding wildlife not usually a good idea
It’s about the right time to start thinking about this now ongoing problem in Pennsylvania.
Is it helpful or harmful to wildlife to artificially feed wild animals in the winter?
Like so many decisions we face, our emotions are strong and we want to sentimentally “help” winter-affected wildlife survive. So we get corn, apples and hay by the truckload and dump it out in the woods somewhere and think we are doing a noble deed. But the Game Commission says this:
“People feeding wildlife, which can increase the spread of some of the diseases currently affecting Pennsylvania wildlife, is the target of a new thrust by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.”
Diseases, like chronic wasting disease, mange and tuberculous — all with the potential to significantly impact wildlife populations — spread naturally, but their spread is increased significantly when wildlife is unnaturally concentrated. And, when people feed wildlife, they escalate that concentration.
A citizens’ advisory committee recently worked with commission staff to investigate the problems associated with wildlife feeding and to propose possible solutions.
According to the commission, there was “broad support” from the advisory committee to expand existing bans on feeding bear and elk to also include deer and turkey.
There you have it, in short, and biological studies have shown it to be true. Dumping out large amounts of “foods” for wildlife is quite risky for the animals. A deer’s stomach cannot digest the amount of corn they will stand and consume at one sitting. It leads to all sorts of digestive problems, many of which lead to a slow death. But animals are drawn to such stockpiles, they bed nearby after eating, and such close perimeter to each other fosters close communication of various diseases.
Such food sources lead to many territorial disputes among animals. You may envision the wild things as sweet little Bambi, but this they are not. The biggest and strongest would be black bears, elk and mature bucks, who eat first and seldom tolerate other wild things to share their bounty. The larger ones drive off the smaller ones, and that leads to energy depletion and weakening.
The baited sites become death traps in other ways, too, for wild animals. Predators hang around the edges and wait for prey to come to feed. Everything from coyotes to foxes, hawks, bears and weasels lurk around waiting for their lunch to show up there.
I have a real irritation with the Christmas cards that depict a beautiful snowy pine tree in the woods with a cardinal sitting on its branches and a fox and a rabbit and other furry creatures gathered around the bottom of the tree. It doesn’t happen that way. The fox would have that rabbit for lunch at once, and other creatures would scatter.
Wild creatures are not sweet Bambis sitting around on mushrooms singing; they are territorial critters who don’t want any other creatures anywhere near their feeding area. So lots of fights break out, and one creature kills another in search of the food. Just watch the birds around a simple bird feeder and see their behavior.
My friends are careful to never send me such a card.
Back in the 1980s, the Pennsylvania Chapter of The National Wild Turkey Federation, after having the scientific research findings relayed to the chapter by wildlife biologists Jerry Wunz and Arnie Hayden, voted to switch from doing winter feeding projects to undertaking habitat enhancement projects. Planting and nurturing wild natural food plants and grass clearings was deemed a wiser way to go. This chapter has continued this practice ever since then, and most conservation groups, such as The Ruffed Grouse Society to Trout Unlimited, has adopted habitat improvement as the way to go.
The Pennsylvania Chapter of The National Wild Turkey Federation will be having its fund-raising banquet on Saturday, Aug. 17. Doors open at 4:30 with the banquet served at 6:30 at the Bavarian Hall in Altoona. There will be the usual array of raffles, door prizes and auction items plus great food and friendship.
For information about the banquet or to register for it, call Mark and Jenn Cornelius at 312-4542 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.