The recent news release was not the first of its kind. In fact, it comes out every year about the same time.
Don’t feed the elk, it said.
Feeding elk is illegal in Pennsylvania, and has been for several years now. But it’s also something people still do. Some just like to have the animals nearby. Others want to get them conditioned to visiting a certain location, so that when the bulls drop their antlers, the person doing the feeding has a chance at collecting them.
So what’s wrong with that?
The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s contention – as outlined in its annual news release — has always been that it’s potentially deadly.
“Artificial feeding of elk can lead to rumen acidosis, which is a known source of mortality in wild elk,” the commission’s release said. “Elk are ruminants, or cud-chewers. And their rumens, or paunches, contain certain microorganisms, such as bacteria and protozoa, required to digest their natural diet.
“When elk suddenly have access to large quantities of artificial food sources, particularly readily digestible carbohydrates such as corn, the abrupt change in diet can lead to a cascade of events that ultimately results in the death of the animal.”
Acidosis has been to blame for the death of several elk over the past few winters, the commission said.
But what about deer?
Providing feed – namely corn – for deer is a long-standing tradition in parts of Pennsylvania. But that can kill deer, too.
Proof of that was seen in New Hampshire, where wildlife officials this past week confirmed that artificial feeding – and acidosis – was to blame for the death of a dozen whitetails. The suburban herd, which included two bucks, one 5.5-years-old, had been adopted by well-meaning local homeowners.
That their “help” proved fatal to the deer wasn’t a surprise. Biologists all over have said that feeding deer, corn especially, in winter, can and often does have the same results.
They also say that the feeding does little to help wintering wildlife.
The Game Commission has been monitoring collared elk for years, for example. It’s found that fewer than 1 percent of animals die of starvation over winter. Feeding them isn’t really a help.
Artificially congregating deer or elk does increase the likelihood of spreading wasting disease faster, though, biologists say.
Yet it remains legal to feed deer in Pennsylvania, with the state’s three disease management areas – where chronic wasting disease has been found – the exceptions.
Is it time to change that?