TOPEKA (KSNT) – Kansas wildlife biologists are putting baiting and feeding practices under a spotlight this year as concerns of disease and other issues increase.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) met at Kansas State University in Manhattan on Sept. 21 to discuss the problems associated with baiting and feeding wildlife. The talks mostly focused on artificial feeding practices that lead to large gatherings of animals like deer, raccoons and predator species.
Three KDWP staff members took the lead with the discussion before it was opened up to public comment. Big Game Program Coordinator Levi Jaster and Small Game Coordinator Kent Fricke talked about disease concerns associated with deer while Wildlife Research Biologist Matt Peek presented on best management practices for baiting and feeding.
Jaster kicked off the discussion by sharing why baiting and feeding practices are controversial. Placing artificial feed leads to an increase in disease transmission among deer and can lead deer to have weakened immune systems due to the unnaturally large congregations created by placing feed out.
Diseases detected in Kansas deer, such as chronic wasting disease and hoof disease, lead to health complications for deer and can result in death. While not currently being monitored in Kansas, Jaster said brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis are also worries for the KDWP in relation to artificial feeding practices.
“When we put in these artificial sites, deer are more likely to actually spend more time there and come into those,” Jaster said. “And so, what you’ve got then is more contact either with other animals or in a contaminated environment possibly than what you’d see at those natural areas.”
Fricke gave a list of the impacts that artificial feed sites can have:
- Degradation of vegetation by trampling and eating local plants
- Change in composition of forests
- Impairs pollination rates
- Bumblebee decline
- Decline in songbird species richness and abundance
- Crop damage
- Increase in deer-vehicle collisions
- Concentration of predators
- Damage to gardens and orchards
Artificial Feeding Impacts on Deer Health
Fricke said deer rely on having a diverse diet of plants to survive in the wild. Putting out grain can be attractive to deer as it can be easier to digest, gives a high amount of starch and gives a burst of energy. This can lead to deer wanting more feed as opposed to natural sources of food.
“So what happens is you get this flavor feedback loop where the body… they get that burst of energy and goes, ‘oh this is good. What is this? What did I just eat? This feels really good. Okay, that’s it, I should eat more of that,'” Peek said. “If you really want to think about it, think about it as potato chips in us. Rarely do you open the bag of potato chips and eat just one.”
High starch diets can lead to a condition known as rumen acidosis in deer and hoof deformities along with other major and minor issues, according to Peek:
- Major Issues
- Neurological issues
- Minor Issues
Best Management Practices
Peek said those who do engage in feeding practices should make sure they are doing so while also reducing the risk of aflatoxin. He said you should limit your feeder output to daily consumption, make sure the feeder is cleaned often, use milo rather than corn and use protein supplements over grain. A pile of grain can be the same as wet grain in a feeder regarding the potential for aflatoxin.
“As far as reducing contact rates and habitat degradation, the main thing we recommend is not feeding deer during March through October,” Peek said. “This is the growing season for natural, native vegetation in Kansas and that’s when it’s most available and so feeding is not necessary during those times from a nutritional perspective.”
Peek said people can use the following alternatives to feeding and baiting on their property:
- Strip disking
- Cover crops
- Timber stand improvement
- Habitat First KDWP program