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Around Our Town...Game and Fish

Feeding Wildlife

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11/01/2005 - As cold weather approaches many Wyoming residents begin feeding wildlife in hopes of helping the animals survive the winter. While these people mean well, intentional feeding is the major cause of most human/wildlife conflicts.

Many individuals feel they are helping wild animals by providing food; others feed wildlife in order to view the animals. But once wild animals learn that they can get an easy meal from humans, conflicts and risks to human safety are sure to occur.

"Animals accustomed to being fed often lose their fear of humans and are capable of inflicting serious injury," said Robin Kepple, Casper region information specialist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. "In many cases, these animals end up being destroyed so that they do not cause any harm to people."

Concentrations of big game animals can attract large carnivores such as mountain lions and black bears that may present a significant threat to human life or domestic pets.

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In September, an 85-year-old Colorado woman was injured when a bear bit her after she placed a bucket of sunflower seeds on a picnic table to feed birds. The bear, along with four others, was a frequent visitor to the bird-feeding station.

Unfortunately, bird feeders aren't the only thing that attracts large carnivores: Feeding deer can invite hungry mountain lions to your backyard.

"Where there are a lot of deer, there are going to be mountain lions," Kepple said. Over time predators become less wary and they're more likely to attack pets and people. When that happens, the animal is destroyed in order to ensure public safety.

Wild animals that become dependent on human food sources may gather in abnormally large numbers, thereby aiding the spread of diseases such as brucellosis, chronic wasting disease and tuberculosis. Feeding can also cause crowding, exclusion, and aggression among a population that would normally not occur, all which cause tremendous stress on individual animals.

"It can cause the degradation of habitat in the feeding area not only for the animals feeding there, but also other species inhabiting the area," Kepple said."

Intentional feeding of wildlife can create significant public safety issues as well. Attracting big and trophy game animals into developed areas can create situations with close interaction between wildlife and people such as increased car/animal collision and other property damage.

To address the growing problem of increased human development of wildlife habitat, the Wyoming Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee recently considered legislation that would make it illegal to feed big game and trophy animals. Normal and accepted agricultural practices would be exempt.

"This legislation is not just about wildlife, it's good for people, too," said Scott Talbott, assistant wildlife division chief for the Game and Fish Department.

Does this mean backyard bird and squirrel feeding is wrong? "No," Talbott said. "If you choose to feed birds and squirrels, do so in a manner that does not attract trophy and big game animals."

Any spilled birdseed should be cleaned up daily to avoid attracting unwanted animals. Using bird feeders with large catch trays will help keep food off the ground, but some will always spill or be scattered by the birds and must be cleaned up.

If you live in bear country, be aware that certain bird foods, particularly hummingbird nectar, are very attractive to bruins. Put your bird foods and hummingbird feeders away at night to avoid inadvertently creating potential dangerous conflicts with bears.

"Feeding may seem harmless enough, or even beneficial, but the long-term consequences of feeding are often disastrous for both animals and people," Kepple said

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