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Don't feed wintering deer and elk, say Idaho Fish and Game

"Regardless of how cute and fuzzy those deer and elk look this time of year, please remember: They're built for this environment."

MCCALL, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is reminding Gem State residents not to feed herds of elk and deer, whether to lure them closer for a photo or from a genuine desire to help the animals weather the colder winter months.

However well-meaning, leaving out food for wildlife does more harm than good, officials said, and can invite a host of problems.

"Regardless of how cute and fuzzy those deer and elk look this time of year, please remember: They're built for this environment," Fish and Game spokesman Connor Liess wrote in a release. "They do not need a tray of feed laid out in the backyard in order to survive the winter. They've done it for thousands of winters before, and they'll do it again this winter."

Multiple towns in Idaho have already passed ordinances against feeding wildlife.

Feeding deer and elk can increasingly draw them into populated areas where they can get hit by cars, spread disease between herds, and cause conflicts with humans when they get into gardens or landscaping. Large numbers of deer and elk becoming accustomed to food left by humans also attracts predators like cougars and coyotes that are a danger to residents' pets.

In winter months, wild game is suited to digest dried, low-nutrient forage, Fish and Game officials say, and adding rich new foods to their diet can sicken or even kill them.

IDFG also pointed to posts on social media in which photographers use apples or carrots to lure animals in to get a good video or picture. Ultimately, such an act is "selfish," Liess wrote.

"Pretty soon the animal becomes used to being fed and repeatedly returns expecting another handout. Maybe it even earns a cute nickname among social media fans," he wrote. "But encouraging this kind of behavior ultimately spells trouble for the wildlife. An animal that's lost its sense of fear towards humans can create a whole web of problems for people, their pets and, sadly, the animal itself."

Sometimes, a wild animal that becomes too used to humans can be relocated far from town, but others end up euthanized, according to Fish and Game.

In some rare cases during extreme winters, Fish and Game will add winter feed to prevent starvation, or to lure big game herds away from agricultural operations or freeways. Such feedings are very uncommon, however, and used only in emergency situations.

"If you wish to help wintering wildlife this year, rather than feeding, take out your binoculars and observe them from a distance," Liess wrote. "Appreciate the fact that you live in a place that provides deer and elk a suitable habitat during certain parts of the year. You will do more good for the deer and elk by not feeding them."

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