Never is the right time to feed deer

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, January 15 2020

Winter has certainly arrived, and a message is going out to islanders to please not give in to temptation to feed the deer.

Sgt. Stuart Bates with the BC Conservation Service spoke to the Sounder this past Friday.

Bates said that under provincial law, feeding the deer is not actually illegal. It is illegal in some municipalities (such as the City of Nanaimo) where local bylaws have been passed.

Being as Gabriola is in the rural part of the Regional District of Nanaimo - such city bylaws do not apply.

Bates countered with saying that feeding the deer is strongly discouraged for a number of reasons:

“A, you will get an unnatural concentration of deer in the area.

“B, you could attract bears and cougars.”

On that note, Bates said it is illegal to put out attractants for bears and cougars. So if someone has cob that a bear is getting into, that person could receive a fine from the Conservation Service.

But officially, there has been no bear reported on Gabriola since “Gabby” was seen in 2012.

Bates continued his list saying, “C, you will attract rats and raccoons.

“D, we really discourage feeding deer. When you get that many in a concentrated area - and they are sharing the bucket - any disease they have, the rest will have quite quickly.

“E, if you feed deer the right food at the wrong time of year, you will kill them. 

“Every year in Nanaimo, people grab apples and lettuce and carrots - it gives the deer diarrhea and it kills them.”

Cob - of any kind - falls into the same category.

Bates said one of the problems the Service has with deer dying of winterkill is the deer have too much access to easily digestible items like grass. 

Deer are designed to be eating twigs and other similar feeds in the winter.

“Their stomach isn’t designed for grass.”

He acknowledged that people are well-meaning.

“But honestly, the deer will do just fine on their own. It’s one of those things - if you feed a horse too many apples or a cow too much corn, you’ll make them sick.”

He said deer are so concentrated on getting calories, they’ll look for anything - but given how their bodies are designed, not all high calorie foods are actually good for them.

Winterkill is also a good thing. Especially on Gabriola where there are no natural predators to thin the population of the weaker members.

Bates said that “in a normal situation - Gabriola is not that normal - the predators would pick those ones off pretty quick.

“I’ve lost count the number of deer we’ve had to put down because someone fed them too much cob or bird seed. When it comes to people and wildlife, the less interaction the better.”