Our small community has been growing. This means more people, more development and, ultimately, more interactions with wildlife.
We are spoiled by regular sightings of deer, bear, bobcat, coyote, fox and more. These experiences enrich our lives. City dwellers typically only see animals like these in the zoo. These experiences are why many have chosen to move here.
However, some well-meaning Teller County residents aren’t content to simply watch the animals that naturally stroll by their windows. They selfishly lure them with salt blocks, corn, birdseed and other food and treat them like pets. Or they carelessly leave their garbage cans out, accessible to animals.
I say they are being selfish because, sadly, these people are causing the deaths of innocent wildlife — especially our resident deer population. And they are contributing to the financial loss, personal injury and sometimes the deaths of their neighbors and others who have the misfortune of colliding with wildlife on our streets.
Feeding wild animals is illegal for good reason and it’s a growing problem in Teller County, especially with mule deer. Feeding deer draws them into an area and gives them no reason to leave. It changes their natural instinct to roam a territory in search of food. Instead, they become residents of a neighborhood — wild, unpredictable residents, that is, who weigh 100-300 pounds, are easily spooked and are known to dart into traffic.
These wrecks regularly injure and kill deer and motorists alike. The wrecks are so frequent, hurt so many people and cause so much damage that deer now rank as the most dangerous animal in North America.
Upwards of 200 people die in the U.S. every year from wrecks with deer, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and insurance industry studies. Property damage from deer-vehicle wrecks stands at $1.1 billion a year.
A few days ago, I watched as several deer crossed U.S. Highway 24. The first deer ran down a hill, jumped out into traffic and narrowly missed being hit by a motorist. The vehicle was not speeding; the driver simply could not see the deer until the last second. Several other deer followed and slowly crossed the highways.
As everyone came to a stop to allow the deer to cross, I looked to see where the animals were going. I saw a building with a bird feeder out front, just off the highway. There were already about five deer standing around the bird feeder eating seeds. The line of deer that had just crossed the highways joined the others at the feeder.
Of course, I stopped and educated the owners on the issue and how their seemingly innocent bird feeder could have killed or seriously injured a human by attracting deer. I then explained the biology of deer and how this was actually a detriment to the deer.
Another reason it is illegal to feed deer is the predators that deer attract when they take up residence. If you have deer, you have mountain lions. Why? Deer represent about 60% of a mountain lion’s diet.
Another issue is the spread of disease, which occurs when deer are in close proximity to each other at a feeding site. In the wild, deer spread out on the landscape. When deer are fed, they congregate in tight groups and can be seen nose-to-nose licking salt or eating corn on the ground. Diseases are typically spread through saliva or when they touch noses and the rate skyrockets at communal feeding sites. This also applies to homeowners who set pans of water out for deer. Please do not set water out for our wildlife.
This is especially troubling in Woodland Park, where deer have tested positive for chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurological disease found in deer, elk and moose.
Feeding also causes deer to become habituated to humans. When they lose their fear of us, they get aggressive and pose a threat to human health and safety. I know it’s hard to believe deer are dangerous when you are looking into the big eyes of a gentle doe or fawn. But remember, they are wild and unpredictable and frequently stomp people and their pets.
Bucks are even more dangerous with their sharp antlers. In November, a man in Franktown was gored by a buck. The man’s wife saw the deer on the other side of their fence and thought it looked friendly. She reached over the fence and the deer approached her hand. The deer ended up busting through the fence and pinning her against the barbed wire. Her husband tried to help but was knocked to the ground, gored and dragged around the yard. His wife shot the deer with a pellet gun, giving her husband time to escape. The man was taken to the hospital for treatment and later released.
Unfortunately, this deer had been raised by people trying to domesticate it. Wild animals are unpredictable and when they expect something from humans — like food — and don’t get it, they can become dangerous.
Finally, feeding deer often makes them sick. Deer are ruminants with four stomachs. To properly digest food, deer chew it, swallow and let it ferment before regurgitating it so they can chew it some more.
Often people provide deer material with little nutritional value. Even worse, the deer cannot digest it. Their intestines can become clogged by a lethal combination of corn and birdseed, leaving them unable to pass anything. These deer die horrible deaths.
Help me protect our wildlife, and protect our neighbors, by resisting the urge to feed the animals. If you know someone who is feeding deer, please call me at 719-227-5281 so I can talk to them. I prefer to give warnings and educate people before issuing tickets. Or you can make an anonymous call to our wildlife hotline at 877-265-6648.
As always, if you’ve got a question, problem or column idea, please call me at 227-5281. I might even answer your question in a future installment of “Wild About Teller.”
Tim Kroening holds a degree in wildlife biology from Colorado State University. He works as a district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Teller County.