November 29, 2023

Perhaps Maine DIFW Should Take a More Proactive Approach to Feeding Deer

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I was reading an article this morning about how residents in the northern town of Allagash are, once again, feeding hungry deer. Included in that article are all the reasons why the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) discourages feeding deer. Those who feed the deer give their reasons why they do.

Reasons for not feeding the deer, according to MDIFW are: Deer congregate near roads and get run over; deer might suffer from enterotoxemia, the inability to digest the grains they are fed properly; some deer getting more food than others. We have always heard about the possibility of better spreading of disease. As the saying goes, if you don’t want to do something one excuse is as good as another.

According to the report, those who do feed the deer say they wouldn’t do it because the deer move into town in winter because they are hungry and there are no more deer yards where deer traditionally have spent their winters. I’m not sure which came first here; the deer coming to town looking for food or the deer coming to town because they have learned there is food there. According to one who feeds deer, he claims the deer came first because they were hungry.

MDIFW has always pulled up short of making a law prohibiting deer feeding, perhaps partly or mostly because they know the outcry they would get from a lot of people. They have tried to stop it in the past but have run into great opposition. Besides, even if they did pass a law, could they enforce it?

If MDIFW is so smart, maybe they could seek the cooperation of the people and devise a better way to deal with hungry deer. I have maintained for some time, mostly due to my experiences in the woods during winter, that deer are adjusting to changes in their habits. Instead of congregating in large deer yards, they are staying split up in smaller groups, in smaller “yards” which happen to be nearer human population centers because there is less pressure from predators nearer people. Perhaps this phenomenon is what is driving people to think the deer are coming out because they are hungry.

If MDIFW is so smart and they repeatedly tell us about their Winter Severity Index, why not devise an algorithm that tells all of us when deer might begin dying due to a severe winter, which would include the inability to find food. Once that threshold is reached, strategic feeding can commence.

If MDIFW is so smart, they could work with the people and hunters to implement a tax on licenses that would help cover the cost of purchasing the right kind of food.

If MDIFW is so smart, instead of complaining that some people might be giving deer the wrong food, they could make sure the food being used is the kind least likely to harm the deer.

If MDIFW is so smart, they could work with the people to find places where deer feed can be stored, spread out geographically so if and when the time comes to begin deer feeding, the feed is already nearby. In similar programs in other parts of the country, it was discovered the citizens had lots of space to store or stockpile deer feed and were more than eager to share the space.

If MDIFW is so smart, they could work with the same people and recruit new volunteers to undertake the feeding of deer during severe winters. It is would be amazing to discover the cooperation and sharing of time and equipment to do it.

Is this the perfect cure? Of course not, but when you consider the excuses MDIFW uses to encourage people not to feed deer, this action would mitigate the problems.

This kind of a program has been tried in other places before and it has seen its problems. Most of those problems have come from uncooperative employees of the state fish and game department. There’s also been problems with using the designated tax money for food, storage and distribution for other programs. It would have to be a joint effort to ensure that food is being stored properly, in amounts that will work well, and distributed geographically to well-planned strategic locations.

If such a program was implemented properly, volunteers would eagerly jump in to help with the work, not placing burdens of extra manpower on MDIFW. Their role would be administering the taxation and ensuring the right deer food is being bought and stored. Once the feeding program was established, carrying it out would be less of a giant task.

Depending upon shelf life of the feed, I’m sure there are ways to use the food that needs recycling, due to lack of use, where the feed will not go to waste and it will benefit somebody.