September 23, 2023

Outdoorsman History (Cont.) – the Real Reasons State F&G Management Was, and Still Is, Failing – Part II

*Editor’s Note* – The below article originally was published in The Outdoorsman, Bulletin 56, April – July 2014. It is republished here with permission from the author/editor. This Part II. Part I can be read by following this link. Part III will follow with Bulletin 57.

By George Dovel

In Bulletin No. 55 Part 1 of 3, I provided several examples of how Idaho Department of Fish & Game biologists ignored basic, common sense rules for managing wildlife. I also printed statistics from the Kaminski-Hansen 197-page 1985 study titled: “Wolves of Central Idaho,” justifying that the surplus prey in some of nine Central Idaho forests would support 219 total wolves in 1985.

One-fifth of Those Projected Central Idaho Wolves Were in the two Lolo Zone Units

IDFG published the 1985 Unit 10 and 12 (Lolo Zone) elk population of 20,115 with the hunter harvest of 1,430 elk, which left a surplus of 805 elk. They estimated that annual elk surplus would support 45 of the 219 total wolves in Central Idaho based on an estimated annual kill of almost 18 deer or elk per wolf.

But instead of limiting the Lolo elk harvest to 1,430 or fewer to maintain that annual surplus for wolves to eat, IDFG increased the Lolo elk harvest by 38%! By 1989, just four years later, the Lolo elk population had declined by 4,845, so instead of an annual surplus of 805 elk the Lolo herds now averaged an annual loss of 1,010 elk.

And because there were only 881 long yearling Lolo bull elk to replace the 1819 bulls that were killed during the 1989 hunting season, biologists’ season recommendations killed 938 too many bulls. Yet they kept killing record numbers of bull elk for another six years until April 30, 1996, when Biologist George Pauley sent his famous memo warning Jay Crenshaw they were destroying the elk in 11 of the 12 Clearwater Elk Units.

But the last minute warning was ignored. In 1996 there were not even half enough live male elk left in the entire Lolo Zone to equal the 1,749 bulls that were killed there by hunters a few months earlier in 1995!

IDFG Formed Teams to Hide Its Mismanagement

In the second year of the Canadian wolf transplant, with no Congressional funding to support the approved transplanting, IDFG biologists were doing everything they could to hide the fact that there were no longer any surplus elk in Clearwater Region forests to support even one wolf.

For the preceding 10 years, citizens who hunted elk in the Clearwater Region had watched IDFG biologists encourage hunters to drastically over-harvest bulls. While most of them did not have all of the data the biologists were privy to, they watched the dramatic decline in the number of bulls and replacement elk calves.

Every IDFG employee that I discussed this with then knew exactly what caused the elk shortage after George Pauley’s April 30th memo was circulated. Director Jerry Conley and Assistant Director Jerry Mallet quickly formed elk, deer and outfitter allocation teams to allegedly “seek solutions” to stop the decline of both elk and deer in the Clearwater and elsewhere.

These teams accomplished two things: 1) They allowed IDFG biologists to pretend they had no idea what had caused the elk destruction so they could claim, without proof, it was caused by succession of mature brush fields; and 2) they could slowly reveal their agenda to allow a few privileged hunters to harvest the declining game that every license buyer was paying them to manage, and pretend it was a joint effort involving sportsmen because they had appointed one or two citizens to serve on each team.

Reasonable Harvest Odds Stolen From Average Hunter

They took a lesson from Don Peay in Utah when he formed Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife in 1994. He convinced the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to remove the ability to hunt Utah deer every year from more than half of Utah deer hunters, and gave the good chances to harvest to bowhunters and others who were willing to pay more to hunt animals when they are far more vulnerable.

At the same time that IDFG officials were trying to hide their massive over-harvest of bull elk in the Clearwater Region, they were also trying to hide their refusal to feed the tens of thousands of starving mule deer and elk in Southern Idaho during the 1992-93 winter. Instead of feeding because of wildfires and a temporary winter forage shortage, both Idaho and Utah biologists decided to allow hunters to kill off the pregnant female deer in late hunts.

A look at long-term harvest graphs for both Idaho and Utah clearly shows that when nucleus groups of mule deer were kept alive and healthy by feeding during severe winters such as in 1983-84, deer numbers recovered in four years. But the refusal by Idaho and Utah to feed and keep some breeding deer healthy during the 1992-1993 winter, combined with letting hunters kill off most of the bred females late in 1992 and again in 1993, created unhealthy mule deer herds that have not recovered in 21 years. (see below)
[table caption=”Comparison of 1984 and 1988 deer harvests after deer were fed, and 1993 and 1997 harvests when they were not fed” width=”500″ colwidth=”20|100|50″ colalign=”left|left|center|left|right”]
* Includes about 20% whitetails

Although much of the early feeding in Idaho in the 1983-84 winter was accomplished with donations from private citizens or businesses, IDFG claimed it was feeding 16,500 deer, 600 elk and 500 antelope. It was forced to either feed starving big game or lose an extra $440,000 a year from an emergency feeding bill it was pushing through the legislature that winter.

From 1984-1993, it collected ~$4.5 million in dedicated money that was added to the cost of each deer, elk and antelope tag sold, with much of that money eventually set aside in a Winter Feeding Account. Yet hundreds of thousands of dollars were misappropriated from this and other dedicated funds and spent for everything from funding six new positions with crew-cab 4X4 pickups, to give-away hats promoting IDFG’s image.

As with other dedicated funds it promoted, F&G had first convinced a SE Idaho sportsman group to endorse the 1984 legislation with the promise it would always be used to prevent deer, elk and antelope from starving. But when a feeding emergency arose, IDFG found excuses to delay feeding or feed only token amounts to a few animals for the media, which caused more harm than good.

It was F&G officials – not legislators – who wrote the requirement that the money could only be used for emergency feeding, and IDFG also approved three other related uses before the legislation passed. Yet those same officials later told the Legislative Services Budget Director it was the legislators’ fault that they had “borrowed” but never paid back the dedicated money.

IDFG Still Refused to Feed

When IDFG kept refusing to feed during the 1992-1993 winter, residents along the South Fork of the Payette River, who had been feeding over 2,000 deer and elk for two months, called in a Boise TV crew to document some of the thousands of starving animals.

IDFG showed up with two sacks of deer pellets and dumped them in a trough which caused a mad scramble from dozens of mule deer, while elk remained in the background. But as soon as the TV crew left to photograph money donation cans at local stores, the elk moved in and quickly ate the remaining deer pellets.

County Officials Demanded Truthful Answers

Many rural county governments now appear more interested in qualifying for federal handouts than in protecting the annual revenue from harvest of bountiful natural resources. But the Boise County Commission scheduled a public hearing with IDFG in the High School Gym, with several hundred angry residents attending.

The Commissioners asked the right questions and demanded truthful answers. Then the Acting County Prosecuting Attorney sent a formal letter to IDFG Director Conley demanding F&G feed the starving deer and elk properly or face prosecution.

F&G took over many of the feed sites, but declined to provide enough feed at the sites they were feeding and the starvation increased. I was part of a small group of citizens, including Wildlife Rehab Veterinarian Liz Scott and Attorney Sam Routson, who attended a press interview at the Idaho Statehouse to address IDFG failure to feed the starving animals soon enough, or provide enough feed to save them when they were finally forced to feed.

On Feb. 3, 1993, an Idaho Statesman article titled, “Deer starving needlessly, group says,” was followed by the sub-title, “F&G says it’s not true, that deer and elk herds are in good shape.” A photo of 20 malnourished deer, including four of the more aggressive closest to the empty feed troughs and cameraman (see below), supposedly illustrated healthy deer which were not malnourished.


But anyone with even a basic knowledge of mule deer physiology could see at a glance that the 20 deer in the photo were in an advanced stage of malnutrition from which they would not recover. The flat (not rounded) slope of their rumps and the obvious lack of muscle tissue along their spine and covering their ribs identified them as having already lost more than 20-25% of their body weight and they would die – despite suddenly receiving feed pellets containing 40% grain they could no longer digest.

These were not deer that were fed early enough by private citizens to retain all of the bacteria needed to digest high quality forage – a fact supported by observing up to finger-size bitterbrush limbs eaten by the deer in the photo.

And the public believed Veterinarian Liz Scott’s statements in the article (i.e. that she had examined the deer being fed by Fish and Game and they were starving). Donations quickly increased from the Boise area to reimburse the local citizens who had obtained the feed and fed in time to save 934 deer and 1,435 elk.

When F&G was finally forced to supply the feed, it reported the eight tons of hay and 2.5 tons of deer pellets were costing $12,000 per day delivered to the area. If it cost a rancher seven times as much to buy feed delivered to a storage location as the price of the feed, he or she would quickly be bankrupt.

Compare the Condition of Mule Deer IDFG Officials Said Were “In Good Shape” in the 1993 Photo, with Deer Fed Properly by IDFG in This 1949 Photo


Healthy mule deer doe and twin fawns – part of the several thousand deer fed properly on the Payette River Winter Range by IDFG during the extreme 1948-49 winter.

I would have used a more recent photo of a successful IDFG feeding operation than 1949. But I am unaware of any successful emergency feeding operation IDFG conducted since 1950, where citizens did not first feed any game that was saved – and then use the media, their legislators, or posting their property to force the agency to provide feed hunters had already paid for twice.

Whether you are a mule deer hunter, or just someone who enjoys seeing the bountiful wildlife that is our heritage, I urge you to look at the doe carrying healthy fetuses and her two previous fawns that provided 4-5 times as many deer to quickly rebuild a herd facing decimation.

Then fast forward 44 years to the February 1993 photo of the deer heading downhill to the Danskin feed site. During the following weeks, the deer in that photo joined thousands of others that died a painful death because of our wildlife managers’ decision to ignore Idaho law and destroy the famous South Fork of the Payette mule deer herd, as well as most of the other mule deer in Idaho.

Then, despite the largest recorded winterkill of deer and elk during the 1992-93 winter since records were first kept, IDFG and the F&G Commission extended several deer and elk hunting seasons in 1993 and added 2,150 late antlerless deer permits and 3,955 bonus elk permits – a 20% increase for each species. But in spite of the extra late hunting opportunity when both deer and elk are far more vulnerable, hunters killed 15,600 fewer deer and 5,800 fewer elk in 1993!

That was the lowest harvest since seasons were closed or shortened and antlerless hunting halted in 1976 by Director Greenley. A crowd of angry hunters attended the December 1993 Commission hearing, demanding to know why F&G had destroyed Idaho’s mule deer herds.

During an intermission in the hearing, Greenley walked up to state Game Manager Lonn Kuck and said, “Lonn, you’ve destroyed our mule deer – now what are you going to do about it?” Kuck did not answer him.

Kuck Predicted the End of Public Hunting

On Nov. 29, 1993, Attorney Sam Routson and I had met with Kuck to convince IDFG to stop lying about the extent of big game losses from starvation during the 1992-93 winter. I showed him a photo of 100 elk racks that had been removed from bulls that died from malnutrition in Garden Valley, and produced 160 elk “ivories” taken by one resident from 80 dead elk.

I reminded him that after he was hired it was legal for a hunter to kill five mule deer in Idaho by hunting in three separate units and killing one female, and he agreed. He also admitted that thousands of deer and many of the elk that had been fed by Fish and Game had died because the feeding was not conducted properly, but said we were wasting our time because the public hunting we had known would be gone in another decade.

At a joint legislative hearing in January 2004, residents of Eastern Idaho presented petitions signed by thousands of citizens demanding that IDFG Director Jerry Conley be fired. But instead of being defensive, Conley set up a joint hearing with Rep. Golden Linford’s Resource Committee in February, to destroy the credibility of the citizens who had circulated the petitions seeking his firing.

He played a misleading videotape in which the same group of deer running in front of the helicopter was seen at various locations to make it appear there were still thousands of live deer in the Big Desert. He even recorded part of a comment taken out of context from a critic to make it appear he was saying, “The deer are still there.”

Then Conley falsely claimed this critic had told hunters IDFG had machine-gunned 300 deer rather than feed them. Finally he told the Legislators that the mule deer would be “completely recovered in a couple of years.”

New Emergency Big Game Feeding Rules

But the truth prevailed and, in a rare example of asserting their authority, the Idaho Resource Committees ordered F&G to prepare, and the Commission to adopt, a set of “fail-safe” rules to prevent such a mass starvation from ever happening again.

Those Rules were written by District Conservation Officer Brent Hyde of Emmett, the son of an Emmett veterinarian. His knowledge of keeping animals healthy, and his participation in the feeding, and in the hearings conducted by the Boise County Commission and Prosecutor, along with the private citizens who conducted the feeding, provided the basis for his recommendations.

His sole recommendation that was not approved by IDFG “top brass”, or even shown to all the Commissioners, was to subcontract all emergency feeding to private citizens approved by the Board of County Commissioners in the county where the feeding takes place. The Biologists were not willing to lose the chance to shortcut feeding the animals and instead use the money to promote their so-called ecosystem management/biodiversity agenda.

Legislature Makes Feeding Rule Permanent – With Full Force of Law – Effective April 3, 1995 to the Present as Follows

The F&G Commission unanimously adopted the feeding rules they were presented by biologists, and in 1995 the Idaho Legislature gave them the full force of law as permanent IDAPA Rule 13.01.18 The Rule specifies that the Commission and the Director delegate the authority to declare a feeding emergency and expend funds on feeding to the Regional Supervisors.

It also established stockpiling feed:

“Over the years, the Department has identified a number of locations where emergency feed should be stockpiled for probable winter use. It is impractical and cost prohibitive to purchase feed and transport it to these locations after snowfall. The Commission and Director declare that the maintenance of this stockpile constitutes a feeding emergency and authorize the expenditure of funds to maintain the stockpiles.”

It further states:

“In most years and areas, snow depths, temperatures and animal body condition do not create adverse conditions for wintering animals. Unusual weather conditions, limited winter forage, or other circumstances may create critical periods of stress for animals or force them into areas involving public safety. The Commission is unable to manage the big game populations for extreme weather. Therefore, emergency feeding of big game is appropriate under certain criteria.”

Then it lists the four criteria, any one of which will justify declaration of a feeding emergency:

a. Actual or imminent threat of depredation to private property.
b. Threat to public safety, including traffic hazards.
c. Excessive mortality which would affect the recovery of the herd.
d. Limited or unavailable winter forage caused by fire or unusual weather.

In 1996 our feeding advisory committee requested the Idaho F&G Commission re-publish its official Winter Feeding Policy, which it did, dated 1996:

“In most years, snow depths and temperatures do not create adverse conditions for wintering animals. However, there are times when unusual weather patterns may create critical periods of stress when winter forage becomes limited, unavailable, or animals are forced into areas involving public safety. We recognize that we cannot manage game populations for these extreme weather situations – nor should we. When the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, through investigation by field personnel, determines that a critical situation exists, . . . the department will provide artificial feed to wintering game animals only during those periods of critical stress.

“The intention of this policy is to provide emergency feed for big game animals only during those periods of critical stress and not as a sustaining program which would carry larger game populations than the range can normally support.”

In other words, both the IDAPA Rule, with full force of Idaho law, and the Idaho Fish and Game Commission’s official Big Game Feeding Policy require IDFG to provide artificial feed during the occasional winter when deer or elk are unduly stressed. Yet fanatical biologists continue to refuse to obey either and their ‘rubber stamp” Commission allows them to do so.

Colorado Research Proves Emergency Big Game Feeding is a Valuable Cost Effective Biological Tool
In 1994, our newly legislated Winter Feeding Advisory Committee requested information about emergency feeding from other western states. Instead of relying on opinions based on the myth of “natural balance” or a handful of early “studies” that provide more questions than answers, Colorado is the undisputed leader in thoroughly researching virtually every aspect of emergency big game feeding.

In 1973 the former Colorado Division of Wildlife and Parks split off from Parks and developed two pelletized formulas that were digestible even when mule deer in captivity were undergoing excessive weight loss. But there is a vast difference between starving with an empty rumen in a pen, and starving with a rumen full of indigestible woody stems in the wild where energy demands are also much greater.

The CDOW researchers selected the pelleted formula that was best suited for their area and had it manufactured as wafers so it could be fed on top of the snow in individual piles. During the severe 1978-79 winter when conditions indicated 30% of adult females would die unless they were fed, they began feeding.

The feeding was considered a remarkable success and the decision was made to research every aspect of winter feeding during and after the next severe winter to set the record straight. Five years later, the extreme 1983-84 winter resulted in the largest group of wild big game animals ever fed in a lower 48 state.

CDOW fed 30,000 deer, 10,000 antelope and 5,000 elk at a total cost of nearly $4 million. It selected 5,000 deer in different locations for the research, including deer that were not fed, those that were fed only two pounds per day, and those that were fed free choice.

Although some of the deer that were not fed had access to limited natural feed, all of the study deer were checked repeatedly through June 15, 1984, to determine condition and their ability to produce healthy fawns. Among adults, only those receiving free choice feed showed steady improvement in body condition, and the females produced healthy fawns (see mortality below).
[table caption=”1983-84 Deer Mortality in Colorado per Amount Fed Daily” width=”500″ colwidth=”20|100|50″ colalign=”left|left|center|left|right”]
Age-Class,None,Two Pounds,Unlimited
During Colorado’s reported “worst winter in recent times,” only 30,000 – five percent of the estimated 600,000 Colorado mule deer – were fed. The calculated cost-to-benefit ratio using only the $250 carcass (human food) value of each of the 14,400 extra buck deer that were ultimately harvested by hunters as a result of feeding, was reported as $3.6 million with a feeding cost of about $1 million.

However the multiplier value, including license costs and trip expenditures by all participating hunters – not just those who killed a buck – was calculated to be $1,268 per buck deer harvested. So instead of just 3.6 times the cost of feeding, the total measurable economic benefit to the area for the increased buck harvest was estimated at 18.3 times the million dollar cost.

Despite The Massive Financial Benefit from Emergency Feeding, IDFG Still Refuses to Feed
While Colorado continued to look for and act on winter feeding emergencies, IDFG pasted a bunch of their excuses for not feeding mixed in with the Commission’s 1996 Feeding Policy on its website. The severe 2007-2008 winter provided a perfect example of this travesty.

On August 4, 2007, IDFG conducted a Mule Deer Management Workshop at Idaho State University pushing its anti-winter feeding message. Invited speaker, CDOW Biologist Richard Kahn, claimed that Colorado no longer feeds mule deer during a severe winter, relying entirely on improved natural forage for mule deer survival.

Yet five months later, on January 9, 2008, CDOW’s Gunnison Area Wildlife Manager, J. Wenum, announced that although mule deer were in good condition, deep snow and colder temperatures in the Gunnison Basin were causing deer to deplete their energy reserves too early. “We know from experience that the snow conditions could soon start to take a toll on deer.”

From 20-30 CDOW employees and 80 volunteers fed pelletized wafers to a maximum of 9,500 deer at 134 sites and nearly 600 antelope at 12 sites. They used snow cats and a ‘copter to feed 14 tons of hay daily to 3,200 elk.

Snow Depths in Southern Idaho also Required Regional Supervisors to Begin Feeding – but They Did Not
An “IDFG Headquarters News Release” dated Feb. 11, 2008, titled “Emergency Winter Feeding,” described how snow depths along the entire South Fork of the Payette River winter range were two and one-half to three times as deep as normal, exceeding 36 inches at Garden Valley and more than 48 inches at Lowman; and how the criterion for winter feeding – including a minimum snow depth on the south facing slopes of 18 inches – had been exceeded since they checked snow levels on January 7, 2008.

Several Residents had asked both IDFG and the feeding committee to begin feeding in mid-Dec. when the snow was getting deep but they declined. And the Feb. 11th news release indicated that even by that late date Reinecker had not taken any of the required steps to prepare for a feeding emergency (e.g. stockpiling feed on site before snowfall, preparing access to feed sites, etc.).

Sportsmen/Landowners Feed & Save Deer

Like their anti-feeding counterparts in the other four central-southern Idaho regions, SE Region Supervisor Mark Gamblin and the SE Region Winter Feeding Advisory Committee ignored the 18” snow-depth and sub-zero temperature criteria that had already been met – and the IDAPA Rule that required Gamblin to begin feeding.

In order to save the deer in their area, West Side Sportsmen’s Assn. landowners Joe Naylor and Kent Howe began feeding the deer in early January 2008. Using deer pellets they had previously purchased, and stockpiled on site – as IDFG is required to do but does not do. Then they reportedly purchased an additional 26 tons from Walton Feed in Montpelier and stored it on site.

They fed at established sites, carefully selected to prevent unhealthy crowding, and they also provided feed to other landowners where feeding was indicated. The West Side group then requested a February 9, 2008 meeting with F&G to ask why IDFG was not feeding starving deer.

When IDFG emerged from that meeting, feeding emergencies were declared in the SE Region, the Upper Snake Region and, in a news release two days later in the Southwest Region. Finally on Feb. 19th the Upper Snake Region began to feed pelletized beet pulp to mule deer wintering next to the sand dunes near St. Anthony.

They advertised that they would slowly accustom the malnourished deer to digest high energy deer pellets but said they could only feed some of the deer and the rest would die. As with every other IDFG feeding operation, they selected how many dollars they would spend on feed rather than how much feed was required to free choice feed a specific number of animals. At an average of only three pounds per deer per day, the 32 tons of pellets they provided would feed 1,200 wintering deer for only 18 days.

Some of the more aggressive deer no doubt died from the stress of “rushing the troughs” and consuming too much “hot feed” before their rumen micro-organisms adjusted to it, and most of the rest died from malnutrition caused by an inadequate supply of feed. But State Wildlife Manager (now Assistant Wildlife Bureau Chief) Brad Compton told the media IDFG spent more than $200,000 to feed 1,000 elk and 2,500 deer – yet he said the $57 average cost per animal didn’t even save any fawns.

A freedom of information request to SE Region Supervisor Mark Gamblin revealed the Region spent a total of only $8,976.50 for deer pellets and delivery, to feed a total of 1,230 deer in the SE Region. That is an average of only $7.30 per deer fed and the feeding was done solely by private citizens who also had to pay for all the rest of the feed.

Unlike the media claim by Compton, most of those fawns were saved, and the 1,230 deer fed by private citizens in SE Idaho account for 49% of the 2,500 Compton claimed were fed statewide – yet the tiny amount IDFG paid for reimbursement accounted for only 4% of his claimed cost.

The Fourth Amendment to the Feeding Code

For the past 30 years I have watched several Idaho legislators amend the F&G winter big game feeding Code Section in efforts to restore accountability to a corrupt agency that circumvents their every effort. On Feb. 3, 2012, the Senate Resources and Environment Committee held a hearing to consider a fourth set of amendments to force IDFG Regional Managers to spend the money in the feeding account solely for emergency big game feeding.

The alternative misuse of unused feeding money for so-called winter range improvement that was tacked on the 1984 legislation, prompted me to recommend removing the feeding money from IDFG and prorating it to county governments where feeding takes place. Instead, in SB 1321, the Committee changed the law so that all of the feeding money must be used for emergency feeding – specifically to purchase only pellets, blocks or hay.

The bill also required IDFG to send each Resource Committee a report by July 31st, detailing how funds in the feeding account had been spent during the preceding fiscal year. I supported the legislation until it was sent to the 14th Order for amendment.

When the amendment was included, it used some unique language to also allow “the purchase of seed or other material that can be shown to directly provide feed or forage for the winter feeding of antelope, elk and deer.” That may give the Deputy Attorneys-General an excuse to let F&G steal more money from the feeding account.

It is important to understand that winter deer or elk survival is threatened on average about one out of every six or seven years – although it did happen in back-to-back Idaho winters 64 years ago. No magic “seed” is going to produce forage that is available for grazing or browsing under deep snow and ice.

The claim that big game animals become addicted to a winter feed area they visited only once in their lifetime has no basis in fact. Yet IDFG propagandists continue to pretend there is no difference between emergency big game feeding once every few years, and operating an annual supplemental feed site.

The reason Wyoming allowed no elk hunting and almost no mule deer hunting in the rut was to preserve as much body fat and muscle tissue as possible to extend their ability to survive until green forage is available to meet their daily TDN requirement.

The extended hunting seasons in many Idaho units magnifies the importance of beginning free choice feeding immediately at the first sign of excessive weight loss or abnormal winter conditions.

Read or Go Fishing – Not a Tough Choice

I am fully aware that few people will take the time to read the five pages and study the photos about winter feeding – especially during the month of August when a weekend fishing or camping trip makes a lot more sense. I might have added illustrations of cell wall contents escaping after the first hard frost when the luscious north slope grasses lose their value and the process of slow starvation soon begins.

In Part 3 of 3 in the Aug-Sep 2014 Bulletin, I’ll include a brief discussion of the Bighorn Sheep fiasco, and what Sheep Biologist Jim Morgan published about IDFG when he finally quit his job and joined the tree huggers. That Bulletin will also include some pretty shocking facts about wildfires that you probably won’t see in print any place else.

By the way, in 2011, the Colorado Parks Department was losing money big time so they decided to re-combine it with the Division of Wildlife which was still making money. But now CDOW&P is losing money and, with the emphasis on biodiversity and ecosystem management, it will be interesting to see if it feeds during the next severe winter.


Redefining: Praying For Your Food


Photo by Al Remington


Maine’s Bear Management: 39 Years of Study vs. Rhetoric

From an article found on the MPBN website:

“To be honest, there’s no way we can harvest enough bears without these tools,” Cross says.[Randy Cross, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife(MDIFW) bear biologist. Cross was referencing the upcoming referendum that, if successful, would strip the MDIFW of any tools needed to properly manage a healthy black bear population.

Darryl DeJoy, who runs the Wildlife Alliance of Maine(WAM), says: “I would argue that we have created an artificial bear feeding season, August and September, where in years of low mast crops and other bear food, the bears are supplemented with this highly unhealthy diet of literally millions of pounds of junk food.”

What we have here is this. For at least 39 years, the MDIFW has conducted scientific bear studies. Most people would agree that Maine’s bear study and management program is the best there is. Some might even argue the best worldwide. We know that Maine is the envy of many states with black bears and I’m sure those states rely on findings from the Maine studies to assist them in their bear management programs.

On the flip side of this, we have the Humane Society of the United States(HSUS), known anti hunting, anti human people, and a clone of which would be Darryl DeJoy. Like an echo chamber they repeat their rhetoric about supplemental feeding programs creating an “unhealthy diet” and “millions of pounds”, all of which is creating a population increase of black bears in the state.

Where is the proof? Where are the scientific studies (real science not “new science scientism) to support this claim? What does HSUS and the WAM have to support their claims? The answer is none and therefore nothing they say or offer can be considered by anyone with a brain as useful information.

IF HSUS and WAM really believe in what they are saying and their claims to be concerned about the health and “inhumane” treatment of black bears is so damned important to them, then why haven’t they produced real science to prove their claim? Put their money where their fat mouths are?

So, Maine people need to decide. Should they listen to those biologists and bear management people at MDIFW with a program of 39 years of bear studies, or a bunch of radical human haters with nothing but rhetoric to support their money-making con game?



Maine Proposes to “Restrict” Deer Feeding – But For What Reasons?

According to an article written for the Bangor Daily News by George Smith, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) is proposing a ban or some level of restricting the supplemental winter feeding of deer by citizens. Smith gives the reasons why MDIFW wants to stop deer feeding:

a) concentrating deer at greater than natural densities;
b) providing food that is harmful or of low nutritional value;
c) increasing direct and indirect contact among individual animals;
d) increasing deer habituation to humans and detracting from wild behavior and survival responses;
e) increasing vulnerability to predation;
f) increasing vulnerability to collisions with vehicles or other mortality risks;
g) increasing the likelihood of disease transmission within and among individual animals and maintaining endemic disease reservoirs;
h) causing significant habitat damage in and adjacent to feeding sites.

Are there legitimate reasons to stop people from feeding deer? Of course there are. Can some or all of those reasons be handled in a better way than banning the activity? I think so. Is feeding deer actually not a benefit to the deer?

According to Smith’s article, the major reason given in the proposal to restrict deer feeding is: “The Department discourages the supplemental feeding of deer and other wildlife because it is not beneficial in most situations.” Two quick issues here. One, why is this proposal mentioning “other wildlife”? Is this proposal about feeding deer or all wildlife in general. Lumping it all together gives one the feeling that the “king” is being a turd and doesn’t want the subjects playing with his wildlife. Two, I don’t have a copy of the proposal and I can’t seem to locate it on the MDIFW website nor directions on how to leave comments and information about supplemental deer feeding.

The MDIFW states that supplemental feeding of deer is not beneficial but it doesn’t say it’s harmful, at least not directly. Let’s consider first the grocery list above. MDIFW doesn’t want us feeding deer because:

1.) “concentrating deer at greater than natural densities” Um, ok. Perhaps this needs a bit more explanation. The overwhelming majority of feeding that occurs is in winter. In winter deer “yard up” in far greater numbers than is found the remainder of the year. To what degree of numbers of deer congregating at a feeding spot is considered above “natural densities”?

Deer come to feeding locations in the state – by the way in the grand scheme of things a tiny percentage – from their normal winter locations. Let’s look at this realistically for a moment. Deer sometimes travel several miles to their favorite yarding location. Most people who do feed, do so because they know that deer are yarding up not too far away from them. In addition, although I doubt anyone at MDIFW will admit it, deer are choosing to spend winters in smaller yards, in smaller numbers outside of “traditional” deer wintering areas. I’ve witnessed this often. Circumstances have forced this.

Unless MDIFW can show that deer coming to a feeding location are being bussed in, isn’t it reasonable to conclude there will be no more unnatural densities than normally occur in their winter yards?

2.) “providing food that is harmful or of low nutritional value” – A legitimate concern and one that can be easily handled through education and ensuring that all establishments selling supplemental feed for deer are selling only the kinds approved by the MDIFW.

3.) “increasing direct and indirect contact among individual animals” – Another legitimate consideration. I am assuming the thought process here has to be concerning spreading of disease. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is of foremost concern and in those states where CWD is prevalent, efforts are in place and underway to do all that can be done about spreading the disease further. The following map shows where CWD can be found in North America.

As you can see from the map, the nearest location where any CWD has been detected is in Oneida County in central New York. That’s doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can to limit the chances of spreading disease. Maine, with their current restrictions, have done a good job keeping ahead of the spread of CWD.

With a bit more education, those choosing to feed can utilize methods and equipment that can help in reducing the risk of spreading disease.

4.) “increasing deer habituation to humans and detracting from wild behavior and survival responses” – I believe this to be a subject that is too subjective of which neither side can offer much scientific evidence to support. This kind of talk reminds me too much of the I-hate-man, animals-were-here-first mantra we hear constantly from animal rights people.

I think the bottom line here is that there has always been a certain degree of deer feeding that has occurred for years, mostly out of care and concern. In recent years feeding has increased more as people learn that the deer are suffering and what results from severe winters. It was told to me one time by a MDIFW biologist that what little feeding is going on in the grand scheme of things, is miniscule and leads to much ado about nothing.

5.) “increasing vulnerability to predation” – Seriously? First of all, deer have learned to get the hell out of deer yards in winter because they are a target. Moving into somebody’s backyard, which may provide more protection for them from predators is a result of circumstances. I have read arguments that deer can more easily be attacked and killed by domestic dogs this way. If this is actually true, let’s all take a look at the data that supports that claim.

6.) “increasing vulnerability to collisions with vehicles or other mortality risks” – Another legitimate concern. People should not be setting up feed stations where deer have to cross a very busy highway to get to it. That’s stupid and represents selfish greed on the part of the people. In cases such as this, MDIFW should set specific guidelines and be able to prohibit feeding locations that fall within those guidelines.

7.) “increasing the likelihood of disease transmission within and among individual animals and maintaining endemic disease reservoirs” – I’ve mostly covered this. MDIFW should assess each disease with supplemental feeding and be able to make adjustments accordingly.

8.) “causing significant habitat damage in and adjacent to feeding sites” – Again I think this needs to be on a case by case basis. How many deer are going to cause how much damage?

The reasons given above, the majority can be handled without all out bans on feeding. Reasonable restrictions are necessary in cases where disease is present and public safety is a concern.

I would like to take a moment and address the comment that supplemental feeding of deer is “not beneficial in most situations.” In addition to the list of concerns addressed above, there certainly exists evidence that might disprove that supplemental feeding of deer is not beneficial.

Most studies that I have found, read and researched concerning supplemental feeding of deer in the winter time, addresses mostly the issues of the spreading of diseases, or in some cases with carefully orchestrated emergency supplemental feeding programs. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan a study was done on the effects of supplemental feeding of deer within a 252-hectare enclosure (about 625 acres) for five years. The results of that study might be interesting to some.

During the length of the study, the whitetail deer population rose from 23 to 159. Scientists had to compensate for differences in reproduction, growth, nutrition, etc. changes due to the increase in deer densities. Most of the negative changes for the deer, came as the result of increased numbers, i.e. competition for food and habitat, ability to reproduce, etc.

Interesting enough with the consistent supplemental feeding, “better nutrition accelerated deer body growth and shortened the time to physical maturity. Except for yearling bucks, antler development improved and casting dates were delayed. In utero productivity of yearling does doubled with supplemental feeding and increased by 50% among 2.5-year-olds and 21% for older does.”

As the herd grew, reproduction rates dropped and “A marked improvement in physiological parameters after the herd was drastically reduced suggested that the aberrations observed under peak populations were density dependent.”

MDIFW could conceive a legitimate reason to restrict or ban supplemental deer feeding in areas where Maine has too dense a deer population. And that is in the town of……..?

But the interesting conclusion to this study is here.

We conclude that when properly conducted, supplemental feeding provides a feasible method of maintaining a reasonably large deer herd in good physical condition with minimal damage to the range. (emphasis added)

I believe I have presented evidence and made suggestions that should help some people better understand the ups and downs of winter time supplemental deer feeding. However there is one very important issue here that I think perhaps the MDIFW and the Maine Legislature are overlooking.

There is nothing any more important than for Maine residents to believe they have ownership in the care of our deer herd and wildlife in general. In my years of doing this work, nationwide the number one complaint I get from sportsmen is that they feel shut out of participating in fish and game issues and management. As government agencies grew, along with that growth was a movement away from working with the people and more of an oligarchical, near dictatorial approach to protecting the wildlife and the people’s access to it for the “king”.

I think I have presented enough evidence to question whether winter time feeding of deer is a bad thing and perhaps have suggested that in fact, if done the right way, could be helpful to the deer. MDIFW stated that in most cases feeding deer wasn’t beneficial but I think haven’t presented a good enough case to convince the Maine people that feed them it’s all that bad either.

I suggest that MDIFW continue it’s education process and follow some or all of the suggestions I have given and let the people remain involved. They feel good about it and believe they are doing their part to help. Short of hard scientific evidence, where I think in Maine’s case doesn’t exist, let the feeding continue.


Maine Deer Intentionally Set Off Driveway Alarm Wanting to be Fed

I found this video on a Maine trappers message board. The woman who took the video says that the deer have figured out that if they walk in front of the driveway alarm, that beeping you will hear in the video, that they will get her attention and perhaps bring them food.