Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife managers are urging people not to feed deer this winter even though it may appear they need help to make it through the cold and snowy conditions.
"Deer have evolved several strategies to help them survive Minnesota winters," said Jeff Lightfoot, DNR Northeast Region wildlife manager, who added the DNR has received an increase in the amount of calls about deer feeding in the past few weeks.
Even though individual deer may die in severe winters, deer populations recover quickly.
"The deer have insulating hollow hair that helps them retain body heat, their metabolism slows down, and they live on browse and body fat reserves," Lightfoot said. "When it's cold and the snow is deep, they move to traditional wintering areas that have areas with extensive conifer cover, which moderates temperatures and intercepts snow. When people feed deer, they often interrupt these natural movements to wintering areas, keeping deer in areas without adequate conifer cover or natural food."
Deer do not normally feed in close contact with each other. Deer feeding changes normal behavior increasing the likelihood of disease and parasite transmission. Deer that become accustomed to eating from feeders become tamer, and their ability to survive in the wild is compromised.
"The strongest deer usually eat first at a feeder and chase away younger, older, and weaker deer," Lightfoot said.
Too many deer in a small area can quickly over-browse their surroundings. Deer that are artificially fed are likely to eat trees, gardens, flowers and shrubs in neighborhoods, making people less tolerant of deer.
Deer feeding can also create hazards by drawing deer across roadways. Nationally, about 29,000 people are injured and 200 people die from deer-vehicle collisions each year.