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DURANGO, Colo.-- Feeding big game is not only illegal in Colorado, it is deadly for wildlife.
"There's no doubt that life's tough for big game during the winter, but feeding these animals can make them sick and kill them," said Scott Wait, southwest region senior terrestrial biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The digestive systems of deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep are specialized for natural food sources, not the common types of feed we give to livestock and pets -hay, corn, grains, alfalfa, birdseed and dog food. When big game eat food not suited to their systems, especially during the winter, they can develop digestive problems that will kill them within a few days.
Here's what happens: As fall begins, the digestive systems of ungulates change so that they can efficiently digest vegetation that is naturally dried out and that is low in nutritional value such as leaves, twigs and grasses. When they eat nutrient-dense food such as corn or alfalfa, their digestive systems produce high amounts of acid which causes them to become dehydrated.
"When that happens they'll become sluggish but also drink lots of water; I will get reports from people who tell me a deer is barely moving and eating snow. That's a sure sign people are putting out food," said Conifer-area District Wildlife Manager Scott Murdoch.
Recently, Murdoch has seen numerous dead deer that succumbed to digestive problems after eating food provided by people. Because feeding big game is illegal, Murdoch has issued one ticket and four other warnings during the last month. The fine is $70.50.
"Some people think they're helping wildlife, but it only causes serious problems for Colorado's big game animals," Murdoch said.
Last year in Murdoch's district, a bighorn ram died as a result of eating food provided by people.
Another problem with feeding is that it causes numerous animals to congregate in one area. That creates a perfect environment for disease transmission. Spreading hay, corn or putting out salt licks will attract animals to the food-and their deaths.
Animals that bunch up can also be vulnerable to mountain lions or other predators.
Anyone who suspects that big game animals are being fed is asked to call the nearest CPW office. Tips can also be called in to Operation Game Thief at 1-877-265-6648.
If you have questions about wildlife, please call any CPW office.
For more information about living with Colorado's wildlife, go to:

Editors – please note correction on CPW
"feeding wildlife" news release

A news release sent by Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Dec. 30 stated that a bighorn ram near Bailey died because it was fed by people. The news release carried a Durango dateline. Media outlets have been reporting that the animal died in Durango.

If you use the story please state, as the press release did, that the ram was found near Bailey, which is in the mountains west of Denver.


Winter Feeding of Wildlife

For additional articles on responsible field behavior please go to Ethics and Wildlife Photography.