Don’t feed deer: It’s bad for them, bad for people & illegal!

deer in backyard East Amherst NY
Photo courtesy Gregg Mojica

by Connie Oswald Stofko

If you feed deer in your backyard or at a park, you could be harming them instead of helping them. Bringing deer together at feeding sites increases their risk of contracting communicable diseases, such as chronic wasting disease, from other deer.

That’s why the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) prohibited deer feeding anywhere in New York State back in 2002.

Recently the DEC adopted a new regulation to provide a clearer definition of what does and does not constitute illegal feeding of deer. (Moose are also covered under this regulation, though I haven’t seen any moose in Western New York!)

For example, bird feeders can supply food for deer, even if you’re not trying to feed the deer. The new regulation clarifies that incidental feeding with a bird feeder will be considered a violation only if DEC has previously issued a written warning to the person responsible for the incidental feeding. This allows nuisance situations to be addressed without limiting bird feeding in general.

Other exceptions to the feeding prohibition include:

  • Planting vegetation associated with agriculture or horticulture
  • Plantings that enhance wildlife habitat conditions
  • Feeding livestock

The regulation also establishes procedures for the legal use of a certain pesticide and device that kills ticks on deer, even though it uses corn to attract deer. 4-PosterTM Tickicide is dispensed via four rollers, or “posts,” attached to bait stations filled with corn. As deer eat the corn, the rollers deposit pesticide on their heads and necks. Tick-borne diseases pose a health threat to humans, so it’s in the public interest to use these devices in areas with high tick-borne disease rates, according to DEC.

The new regulation also requires retail products packaged for sale as food or edible attractants for wild deer or moose to carry a label clearly stating that such use is illegal in New York.

See more details of the new regulation here.

Feeding deer can be harmful

Feeding deer can be harmful to the deer, to humans and to the environment.

Feeding deer can:

  • Increase the number of deer-vehicle collisions.
  • Get deer used to human presence, leading to other dangerous interactions between deer and humans.
  • Damage the natural habitat. Deer being fed also eat vegetation in the surrounding area, which can lead to overbrowsing. Plants in that area can be damaged or destroyed by the deer. The result is a habitat that supports fewer animals. In turn, the deer become dependent on artificial feeding.
  • Decreased nutrition for deer during winter. Deer are ruminants similar to cows and have a multi-chambered stomach with a complicated digestive process. If the type of food the deer consume is suddenly changed through feeding by humans, it can take considerable time for the digestive process to adapt to the new food. The animal can receive little nutrition when it needs it most.
  • Negatively affect deer behavior, leading to increased social conflict among deer.
  • Alter the migratory movements of deer to critical wintering areas.

Read here about deer survival without help from humans.

4 Comments on “Don’t feed deer: It’s bad for them, bad for people & illegal!

  1. Hi Ingrid, this is a job for Miss Manners, but I’ll do my best. You say you have tried hinting. Perhaps it would be better to be polite, but direct. Try: “I wish you wouldn’t set out bait for the deer because it can spread disease among the deer. Besides, my dad and I like to hunt on our land, but your bait draws the deer off of our property and we never even see deer. Can you help us out by not setting out bait on your land? We’d really appreciate it.”

    I hope that helps!

  2. Hi my next door neighbors feed the deer constantly on their 80 acres of land. There are never deer in my woods anymore anytime of the year especially not hunting season. I’m very close with my neighbors and I don’t want to come out as rude so how should I tell them to stop? I’ve tried hinting at them but they don’t stop. And they also hunt so it feels unfair when he just got an 8 point buck in the second hunting day because he baits them and me and my dad get nothing after weeks of sitting in the stand. I need help!!! I see deer all the time when I’m at their house but there’s never any at ours.

  3. Hi Barb,
    I would print out this article and take it over to your neighbor. Your neighbors are probably feeding the deer because they like the deer. If your neighbors learn that they may be making the deer sick or even killing them, they will probably stop feeding the deer.

    If your neighbors do want to help the deer, the DEC supplies this information: The best way to improve deer survival through winter is to improve the quality of their summer and fall habitat and natural food sources. Additionally, cutting trees and brush in deer winter yards makes the browse in the tops of the trees or brush accessible to deer. This browse is the food deer are adapted to eat in the winter. This cutting can only be done on private land with the permission of the landowner. It cannot be done on state forest preserve land and requires permits on other state lands. The landowner can use the trunks of the trees for firewood or timber, leaving the tops for deer to eat. Anyone interested in providing browse to deer by cutting trees or brush can contact their regional DEC deer biologist for suggestions on tree species and quantities or visit the winter deer foods page.

    I hope that helps!

  4. I have a neighbor feeding the deer. Last year we saw 3 in the lot next to his, now we saw 12 last night. He started putting pumpkins out in the fall and now has a table with food for them. We have tracks all through our yard and I am sure my garden will be their salad bowl when the hostas and day lilies start to grow. Has anyone had this problem and what did you do?

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