Master Gardener: Let nature feed the animals |

Master Gardener: Let nature feed the animals

Barbara Sanders
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It was a terribly dry summer, and all the grass died. What can we do to keep deer, elk and moose alive? Resist the temptation to feed them.

First, under Colorado law, intentionally feeding big game animals is illegal. The prohibition applies to deer, elk, antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and bears. Violators face a $100 fine. It is also illegal in Colorado to intentionally place or distribute feed, salt blocks or other attractants for big game animals.

Second, when the animals congregate for the easily available food, disease transmission through close contact and stress increases. Perhaps foremost in our part of the state is chronic wasting disease in elk.

Luring these animals into your yard tempts them to stay, not allowing them to naturally spread out as they browse and keeping the forest from regenerating in spring. The stress of winter encourages deer herds to move to lower elevations close to homes and businesses. Some people may feel the deer do not have adequate food sources in the wintertime, and they may be right but supplementing their diets with grain, corn or hay is not helpful. In fact, wild animal populations and their food sources are carefully monitored:

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife launches controlled, emergency feeding of big-game animals only during extremely harsh winters when substantial numbers of animals are threatened. In all other cases, big-game animals are better off left to obtain their food naturally.

Last, feeding attracts predator animals — mountain lions and bears — to our neighborhoods, animals that are dangerous to children and pets.

Big game animals depend entirely on native vegetation, such as grasses, forbs and shrubs. Those plants provide all the nutritional requirements the animals need to survive in Colorado, even through the winter.

There are few plants that occur on their range that they will not eat in certain areas under certain conditions. In winter they eat grasses when they can obtain them. When the snow becomes deep, they readily eat twigs of woody species, even conifers like Douglas fir. They also consume shrub and tree twigs and leaves.

Please follow this link to find out more. Winter is difficult, but we should not interfere from our warm homes.

Barbara Sanders has been a Colorado Master Gardener since 2000.

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