With winter winding down, don’t feed or crowd wildlife

With the extreme cold and snow much of Montana experienced recently, it’s easy to take pity on wildlife and put out some food. Late winter is a difficult time for wildlife. After using fat reserves through most of the winter, along with trying to find what food is available, many animals are at their most vulnerable.

That’s why Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, along with the Bureau of Land Management, are asking Montanans not to feed wildlife and for shed hunters and other recreationists to give wildlife their space until all the snow melts and the animals are less stressed.

Although the winter of 2020-21 has been a fairly “open winter” concerning snow, often we get late winter or early spring snowstorms and folks may be eager to take advantage of that recreational opportunity.

“Feeding wildlife is often undertaken with good intentions,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Game Management Bureau Chief Brian Wakeling. “Despite those good intentions, providing artificial food for wildlife can have a number of negative consequences for wildlife and humans.”

Artificial feeding can alter natural movements, migrations and concentrations of wildlife, Wakeling explained. Due to the availability of artificial foods, wildlife may alter migration timing, which may place them at greater risk of mortality when seasonal changes become more extreme.

Artificial feeding also can create unnatural concentrations of wildlife, which may subsequently create greater opportunity for disease transmission and draw in predators, such as mountain lions.

If the artificial food is near human habitation, concentrations of wildlife may result in undesirable effects on vegetation or landscapes and create conflicts among neighboring landowners.

These changes also may present challenges for domestic animals, especially small pets.

“In short, artificial feeding may create far more challenges for the wildlife we feed or among neighbors who may have different interests in wildlife,” Wakeling said.

And, even with the best intentions, feeding wildlife is illegal.

Shed hunting – looking for antlers shed each year by male members of the deer family – has become increasingly popular and competitive in recent years. Shed hunting is a good way to get some fresh air and exercise and is encouraged as an activity.

However, shed hunters, along with snowmobilers, skiers and snowshoers, should avoid areas where deer, elk and antelope are currently wintering. It is safest to admire these animals at a distance.

Like any activity, shed hunting requires permission of the landowner/agency, and special rules may apply. For instance, the BLM is especially concerned that mule deer wintering areas, such as the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area in northern Valley County, are targeted for shed hunting with snowmobiles. Snowmobiles are not permitted off-road in the Bitter Creek WSA, and folks who are violating this law will be fined.

Please know the rules of public land agencies regarding winter recreation, and always ask permission on private land including property that is in Block Management.