What To Do Wednesday: Issue #6

What to do if your neighbor is feeding wildlife.

A cougar family that was relocated after preying on human-fed deer in an urban area (Photo: Jackson Hole News & Guide / courtesy photo)

A cougar family that was relocated after preying on human-fed deer in an urban area (Photo: Jackson Hole News & Guide / courtesy photo)

They say everyone likes a little drama. While we at The Cougar Fund typically prefer to get straight to “the facts,” we have decided to delve deeper into one of the more controversial issues when it comes to wildlife. Feeding wildlife – such as putting out salt licks for ungulates or grains to attract small mammals (bird feeders aren’t a problem, so long as you hang them properly and at the right time of year) – is one such issue, and a perfect topic to discuss in our What To Do Wednesday series.

Make no mistake about it: Feeding wildlife is not appropriate, and it often has unintended consequences. As we (and other organizations and agencies) always warn, if you’re attracting prey, predators are sure to follow; and attracting predators into developed, human-inhabited areas brings with it a whole slew of concerns. But there are other risks to feeding wildlife too, including increased disease transmission, habituation, and mortality associated with roads and vehicles, not to mention, the danger habituated animals pose to humans and their property (even deer can injure children or pets).

It’s an issue that really hits home for The Cougar Fund. A few years ago, a family of cougars was trapped near Jackson, Wyoming and relocated elsewhere (relocated cougars have very low survival rates). The family had been frequenting a high use area with residences, preying on deer that were being fed. A misguided decision to feed deer likely resulted in the death of a mother cougar and her three kittens, and it also put Wyoming Game & Fish’s staff in a highly undesirable “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.

A big part of the problem is that state wildlife managers don’t have a whole lot of control over this issue – until the damage has already been done. After all, people feeding wildlife are almost always doing it on their private land. So, what should you do if your neighbor or someone you know is feeding wildlife?

First, put yourself in the shoes of your neighbor. Why are they feeding wildlife in the first place? It is almost certainly the result of misguided kindness, of an individual doing what they think will help the animals (but, as we’ve already discussed, it will likely result in more harm than good). If you approach your neighbor, it is important to be sensitive to the possibility that they are not aware of the potential repercussions of their actions, and that they are simply doing something they think to be right.

Share with them the facts related to feeding wildlife, and be prepared to engage in a lively but civil conversation. Offer up alternative ways in which they can help wildlife, such as:

  • Supporting a wild animal sanctuary or rehab center.
  • Donating to a land trust or similar organization that works to protect habitat.
  • Volunteering in habitat improvement projects.
  • Landscaping their property with native plants that create habitat for wild animals.
  • Visiting a park or refuge to view wildlife.

Reaffirm, if necessary, that they are not “bad” people, and that you understand they are simply trying to help wild animals.

This deer is a little too friendly, and possibly dangerous. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6344645)

This deer is a little too friendly, and possibly dangerous. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6344645)

Of course, there are people who have probably been feeding wildlife for decades, and just about nothing you say is going to change their mind. There are regulations in many locales that discourage the feeding of wildlife (and activities that attract large carnivores), but it is always better to try and reach some sort of resolution, rather than seeking punitive action. If no such agreement can be reached, however, it could be time to take this route. After all, the safety and well-being of humans and wildlife is the highest priority.

Coexisting with wildlife isn’t easy, but it can be done. If you live in an area inhabited by bears, then you’ve certainly heard the mantra, “A fed bear is a dead bear.” While the euthanization of a habituated bear is tragic, feeding wildlife such as deer can have cascading effects that result in the death of multiple animals. Hopefully this post has gotten straight to “the facts” about feeding wildlife, and you are now better prepared to deal with a sticky situation should it arise.

For more information on the effects of feeding wildlife, check out:
http://www.paws.org/feeding-wildlife
http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/74763.html