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It is illegal statewide as of Sept. 1 to feed deer in Virginia until Jan. 6, 2013.
The regulation does not restrict planting of crops such as corn, wildlife food plots, and backyard habitats.
It is intended to curb artificial feeding of deer that leads to negative consequences.
Problems with feeding deer include: unnaturally increasing population numbers that damage natural habitats, increasing the likelihood for disease transmission, and increasing human-deer conflicts such as deer/vehicle collisions and diminishing the wild nature of deer.
Feeding of deer has law enforcement implications. Deer hunting over bait is illegal in Virginia.
Prior to the deer-feeding prohibition, distinguishing between who was feeding deer and who was hunting over bait often caused law enforcement problems for officers of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
At one time, deer feeding was booming along with the population.
Game official Matt Knox says many people feed deer because they believe it will keep them from starving, but this is not a legitimate reason to feed deer in Virginia.
In Virginia, deer die-offs due to winter starvation are rare. Says game official Nelson Lafon, “We do not need more deer in Virginia. In fact, we need fewer deer in many parts of the state.”
Lafon completed a revision of the department’s deer management plan in June 2007. Based on his research, it appears that Virginians want to see deer populations reduced over most of the state.
Lafon noted that Virginia’s deer herds could be described as overabundant from a human tolerance perspective. Feeding deer only makes the overabundance problem worse.
Supplemental feeding can artificially concentrate deer on the landscape, leading to over-browsed vegetation. Over-browsing destroys habitat needed by other species, including songbirds.
It is not unheard of for deer to take advantage of birdfeeders and begin to eat spilled birdseed. Individuals who inadvertently are feeding deer through their birdfeeders may be requested by conservation police officers to remove feeders temporarily until the deer disperse.
In their natural state, deer are wild animals with a fear of humans that have preyed upon deer for thousands of years. However, when deer are fed by people, they lose this fear, becoming less wild and often semi-domesticated.
Fed deer are often emboldened to seek human foods, leading them into conflict with people, the state department said.
Despite the gentle appearance of deer, they can become lethally dangerous during mating season, capable of goring and slashing with sharp hooves and antlers.
There are numerous cases across the country of individuals injured, and in some cases even killed, by deer they treated as pets.
People often treat the deer they feed as if they own them, even going so far as to name individual deer.
Not only does this association diminish the “wildness” of “wildlife,” it also leads to a mistaken notion regarding ownership of wildlife.
The increase in deer feeding in Virginia during the past decade now represents one of Virginia’s biggest wildlife disease risk factors. Deer feeding sets the stage for maintaining and facilitating the spread of disease.
Diseases are a big issue in U.S. deer management. Feeding deer invariably leads to prolonged crowding of animals in a small area, resulting in more direct animal to animal contact and contamination of feeding sites.
Deer feeding has been implicated as a major risk factor and contributor in three of the most important deer diseases in North America today.
These include tuberculosis, brucellosis, and chronic wasting disease. Virginia’s first case of wasting disease was discovered in a doe killed during November 2009 in western Frederick County, less than one mile from the West Virginia line.
“It is clear that the negative consequences of feeding deer outweigh the benefits,” the state department said. “If you are not feeding deer, you should not start. If you are currently feeding deer, you should now stop.”
• The illegal feeding of deer or any wildlife violations can be reported to the state’s wildlife crime line: 1-800-237-5712.