Feeding Deer: More Harm Than Good

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Do you love living by a forest preserve as much as I do?  It's a refreshing contrast from the hustle and bustle of everyday city life.  From trail running to nature spotting, forest preserves are for us to enjoy.  Regardless of our appreciation to wildlife, we have a duty: DO NOT FEED THE DEER.  

Winter is the time I see a spike in "food" left for the deer.  I often see people throw food matter ranging from bread, pumpkins all the way to straw.  Others even throw straw.  People believe that they are doing a duty by giving food, the deer will survive.  However, the deer can have three adverse affects: Acidosis, Enterotoxaemia and Chronic Waste Disease. 

Acidosis is the result of a radical change in the deer’s normal diet of fiber woody browse (tree stems, branches, weeds, bark), to a low fiber high carbohydrate foods diet (corn, grains, or any other food matter than is not native to deer). Change in intestinal flora increase levels of lactic acid and lactate in the stomach, causing fluids to be diverted into it and ultimately dehydrating the deer.

Enterotoxaemia is a fast death for deer when fed grains.  They are unable to metabolize such an amount of grains during the winter time.  Bacteria in the lower intestine proliferates and secretes lethal concentrations of toxins (Gagne and Clermont).

Chronic Waste Disease (CWD) is a is a naturally prion/protein that attacks a deer's nervous system.  CWD may negatively impact a deer's health.  It can slowly weaken the nervous system, leading to lose in weight, health and even death. It can be transmitted by deer feeding on the same bait pile left by humans.  (Alliance) 

Deer weakened by CWD

Whitetail buck weakened by CWD

Another issue that comes up with feeding deer is car collisions.  I see people throw food from the car, right by the side of the road.  Feeding deer will lose fear of cars, leading to more accidents.  In 2019, there were more than 16,000 deer on vehicle accidents.  The county with the highest accidents?  Cook County (IDNR and IDOT). 

Most importantly, feeding deer creates an imbalance.  Deer will NOT behave like wild animals.  Wildlife is NOT wild if humans intentionally put their hand in offering food they didn't scavenge for.  Forest preserves and natural habitats are meant to keep animals instincts they way they have used for generations.  They are not petting zoos.  Forest preserves and natural habitats need you to do your part in limiting the decline of deer awareness and populations.  One is easy way is to NOT feed the deer.  Please remember that deer naturally shutdown their metabolism in the winter months.  They limit their movement and conserve energy (Forest Preserve Will County).  Giving food not foraged by them can lead to the three adverse affects mentioned earlier.  And remember, if deer have done it for generations before without human food help, why not let these beautiful wild animals thrive the way they've done before?  Not to mention, it's against the law.  There is a $75 offense for feeding wildlife in forest preserves of Cook County (Cook County Forest Preserve).


Whitetail Winter


Alliance, CWD. “The Basics.” CWD. Accessed December 18, 2020. http://cwd-info.org/cwd-the-basics/.

Forest Preserve Cook County "Feeding Wildlife." Accessed December 18, 2020.  https://fpdcc.com/nature/people-nature/feeding-wildlife/.

Forest Preserve Will County “Nature Curiosity: How Do Deer Stay Warm in Winter?” Forest Preserve District of Will County, January 14, 2019. https://www.reconnectwithnature.org/news-events/the-buzz/nature-curiosity-how-do-deer-stay-warm-in-winter.

Gagne, Jean-Benoit, and Tristan Clermont. “Winter Feeding of Deer in Chicago.” Winter Feeding of Deer in Chicago | Open Case Studies. The University of British Columbia . Accessed December 18, 2020. https://cases.open.ubc.ca/winter-feeding-of-deer-in-chicago/.

IDNR and IDOT. “Motor Vehicle Crashes Occurring on Illinois Public Roadways Involving Deer.” CIS Prod - rptCrash and Injury Severity Deer by County IDNR and IDOT-Bureau of Data Collection, September 21, 2020. https://www2.illinois.gov/IISNews/22157-2020_Illinois_Deer_Stats.pdf.