Feeding Wildlife Puts Animals and People at Risk

By Beacon Staff

Many people enjoy seeing all the wildlife Montana has to offer. And some people think they’re helping out by giving them something to eat. But the fact is feeding wildlife places the animals at risk and puts them on a collision course with humans. The problem of feeding wildlife has become such as issue across the state that the Montana Legislature recently passed a law with penalties for feeding wildlife.

The revised state law passed during the 2009 Montana Legislature, adds ungulates (deer, elk, moose, and antelope) and mountain lions to the list of animals that cannot be attracted to an area with any kind of food.

Once limited only to bears, the revised law is aimed primarily at feeding to purposely attract certain wildlife to a particular area with things like grain, seeds, and salt licks, but also includes negligently failing to properly store supplemental attractants, including garbage.

Offenders could be charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and six months in jail. The penalty also could include the loss of hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges for a year or more.

The new state law does not apply to normal feeding of livestock, backyard gardens, most recreational bird feeding, or to commercial processing of garbage. It does, however, apply to those who continue to feed birds after receiving a warning by FWP that the feeding is unlawfully attracting big game and other wildlife.

Here are some facts about feeding wildlife:
• Supplemental feeding encourages wildlife to become dependent on handouts that are not part of their natural diets.
• Human foods are usually nutritionally inadequate for wildlife and may lead to subsequent health problems.
• Young animals that are taught to depend on humans sometimes never develop normal foraging behavior, and could starve if the artificial food sources are removed or more likely become nuisances and come in conflict with humans.
• Wildlife lose their fear of humans and learn that they can boldly forage for human food, consequently conflicts, nuisance behavior, and risks to human safety are sure to occur.
• Wild animals being fed by humans may congregate in unnaturally high numbers, and this is the perfect opportunity for diseases to spread. Disease such as rabies, distemper and many others which are dependent on high animal populations.
• Feeding wildlife, especially prey species such as deer, squirrels and rabbits, often causes a domino or food chain effect. Due to such feeding, the prey densities increase, which in turn attracts predators such as coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. Example: Increase deer numbers in your yard and you may be inviting a mountain lion for a free meal.

Do your part to help keep wildlife healthy and prevent them from coming into conflict with people. For more information and tips about living with wildlife, visit FWP’s Web site at http://fwp.mt.gov/wildthings/livingwwildlife/default.html.

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