Virginia’s annual statewide prohibition of feeding deer begins Sept. 1 and continues through the first Saturday in January.
During that time it will be illegal to feed deer throughout the state. Additionally, it is now illegal to feed deer year-round in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren counties and in the City of Winchester as part of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ chronic wasting disease management actions established in April 2010.
This regulation does not restrict the planting of crops such as corn and soybeans, wildlife food plots, and backyard or schoolyard habitats. It is intended to curb the artificial feeding of deer that leads to negative consequences.
Potentail problems with feeding deer include unnaturally increasing population numbers that damage natural habitats; increasing the likelihood for disease transmission; and increasing human-deer conflicts such as deer/vehicle collisions and diminishing the wild nature of deer.
Feeding deer has law enforcement implications. Deer hunting over bait is illegal inVirginia. Prior to the deer feeding prohibition, distinguishing between who was feeding deer and who was hunting over bait often caused law enforcement problems for the Department’s conservation police officers.
Deer Feeding was Booming Along with the Population
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Deer Project Coordinators Matt Knox and Nelson Lafon noted when the regulation first took effect in 2006 that, for more than 20 years, the practice of feeding deer had expanded across the eastern United States among deer hunters and the non-hunting general public. The most common reason given for feeding deer is to improve their nutrition and to supplement the habitat’s ability to support more deer; in other words, to increase the carrying capacity for deer.
According to Knox, many people feed deer because they believe it will keep them from starving, but this is not a legitimate reason to feed deer in Virginia. In Virginia, deer die-offs due to winter starvation are rare. In addition, according to Lafon, “We do not need more deer in Virginia. In fact, we need fewer deer in many parts of the state.”
Lafon completed a revision of the Department’s Deer Management Plan in June 2007. Based on his research, it appears residents would like to see deer populations reduced in most of the state. Lafon noted that Virginia’s deer herds could be described as overabundant from a human tolerance perspective and stated that feeding deer only makes this overabundance problem worse.
Supplemental feeding artificially concentrates deer on the landscape, leading to over-browsed vegetation, especially in and around feeding sites. Over-browsing destroys habitat needed by other species, including songbirds.
People often treat the deer they feed as if they own them, even going so far as to name individual deer. Not only does this association diminish the “wildness” of “wildlife,” it also leads to a mistaken notion regarding ownership of wildlife. Deer and other wildlife are owned by all citizens of the Commonwealth and are managed by the Department as a public resource.
Feeding Congregates Animals
The increase in deer feeding in Virginia over the past decade now represents one of Virginia’s biggest wildlife disease risk factors. Deer feeding sets the stage for maintaining and facilitating the spread of disease.
Diseases are a big issue in deer management today across the United States. Feeding deer invariably leads to the prolonged crowding of animals in a small area, resulting in more direct animal to animal contact and contamination of feeding sites. Deer feeding has been implicated as a major risk factor and contributor in three of the most important deer diseases in North America today. These include tuberculosis, brucellosis, and CWD. Virginia’s first case of CWD was discovered in a doe killed during November 2009 in western Frederick County, less than one mile from the West Virginia line.
Feeding deer is against the law between September 1 and the first Saturday in January. If anyone sees or suspects someone of illegally feeding deer during this time period, or observes any wildlife violations, report it to VDGIF’s Wildlife Crime Line at 1-800-237-5712.