Feeding big game is illegal in Colorado, and it can be deadly for wildlife.
“There’s no doubt that life’s tough for big game during the winter, but feeding these animals can make them sick and kill them,” said Scott Wait, southwest region senior terrestrial biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Every year at about this time, Colorado’s wildlife officers see evidence throughout the state that people are feeding big game animals. The problem is most common in rural, large-lot subdivisions.
The digestive systems of deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep are specialized for natural food sources, not the common types of feed given to livestock and pets – hay, corn, grains, alfalfa, birdseed and pet foods. When big game eat food not suited to their systems, especially during the winter, they can develop digestive problems that will kill them within a few days, Wait said.
Here’s what happens: As fall begins, the digestive systems of ungulates change so that they can efficiently digest vegetation that is naturally dried out and low in nutritional value-such as leaves, twigs and grasses. When they eat nutrient-dense food such as corn or alfalfa, their digestive systems produce high amounts of acid which causes them to become dehydrated.
“When that happens they’ll become sluggish but also drink lots of water,” said Scott Murdock, a CPW district manager in Conifer. “I will get reports from people who tell me a deer is barely moving and eating snow. That’s a sure sign people are putting out food.”
Recently, Murdoch has seen numerous dead deer that succumbed to digestive problems after eating food provided by people. Because feeding big game is illegal, Murdoch has issued one ticket and four other warnings during the last month. The fine is $70.50.
“Some people think they’re helping wildlife, but it only causes serious problems for Colorado’s big game animals,” Murdoch said.
Last year in Murdoch’s district, a bighorn ram died as a result of eating food provided by people.
Another problem with feeding is that it causes numerous animals to congregate in one area. That creates a perfect environment for disease transmission. Spreading hay, corn or putting out salt licks will attract animals to the food-and their deaths.
Animals that bunch up can also be vulnerable to mountain lions or other predators.
Anyone who suspects that big game animals are being fed is asked to call the nearest CPW office. Tips can also be called in to Operation Game Thief at 1-877-265-6648.