As Colorado enters the snowy transition between winter and spring, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is reminding citizens that feeding wildlife in Colorado is not only illegal, but can also harm wildlife.
Native species are adapted to survive the long months of privation that winter brings. While sick, old or weak individuals may succumb to the stresses of winter, local populations generally meet the spring ready to begin the seasonal cycle anew.
“Feeding big game can have a lot of unintended consequences,” said Cary Carron, district wildlife manager in southwest Colorado. “It can create real headaches in residential areas and can be bad for the animals that people think they are trying to help.”
During the last two winters, Carron has ticketed a couple near Bayfield for feeding deer. The deer should migrate further south to traditional winter range, but the feeding has caused a herd of about 30 to stay in the neighborhood throughout the winter.
“Those deer should not be staying there in the winter months, but they came right back this year because of the feeding that’s gone on in the past,” Carron explained. “This winter’s been mild. But if next winter is severe those deer will pile in there, get stuck in the snow and die.”
Feeding also congregates deer which makes them an attractive target for mountain lions.
“We don’t want lions picking off deer in the middle of a subdivision,” Carron said. “The deer are also causing problems for other residents in the area. Neighbors are upset.”
The couple made a mandatory court appearance, pleaded guilty to intentionally feeding wildlife and paid a $70 fine.
Officials have also warned several other residents in the Durango area of the dangers of feeding wildlife.
“It’s going on right in the city limits and outside of town,” said Trevor Balzer, a district wildlife manager in Durango. “We really need people to stop feeding. We urge neighbors to report to us if they know about someone feeding deer in their neighborhoods.”
Feeding smaller wildlife species can also create problems. A Lakewood resident who lives next to an open space area didn’t realize that feeding corn and bread to squirrels would attract foxes and coyotes. Eventually, a coyote challenged a dog-walker in a threatening manner.
“Citizens need to consider that small animals are prey for larger animals,” said Jerrie McKee, district wildlife officer in Lakewood. “Leaving food out invites all manner of wildlife into your yard and can put your neighbors or their pets at risk.”
Two years ago, wildlife officers were forced to kill a coyote at the Copper Mountain Ski Area. People had been feeding it and the animal became aggressive. The same year, a porcupine had to be relocated from the Telluride ski area because people were feeding it at the mid-mountain restaurant.
Unfortunately, the consequences can also go beyond the animals that are being fed. Last year, a man who lives north of Durango was feeding deer near his home and eventually two young bears also found the food. Because they quickly associated food with houses, the animals broke into that residence and several others within a five-mile radius. The animals were eventually trapped and euthanized.
Bears in Colorado will start waking up from their winter hibernation in the next month and they’ll begin their search for food.
“If people are feeding deer that will eventually bring in bears that become habituated quickly to human food,” Balzer said. “Bears will be coming out of hibernation soon and we’re concerned about areas where deer are being fed. People should also start securing their garbage and putting their cans out only the morning of pick-up.”
To make reports about people feeding wildlife, call the local Division of Wildlife office. Office phone listings can be found at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/About/OfficesAndPhone.