Montana: Feeding Wildlife Against the Law and Dogs at Large are Problem

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Feeding of wildlife places the animals at risk and puts them on a collision course with humans. The problem of feeding wildlife has become such an issue across the state that the 2009 Montana Legislature revised the state law (MCA 87-3-130) governing the feeding of wildlife to specifically prohibit the feeding of ungulates—deer, elk, moose, and antelope—and mountain lions. FWP Warden Captain Lee Anderson noted that  most people's intentions are good, but it is against the law to feed most wildlife and probably not the best thing for the wildlife in the long run.  He also reminds people that the recreational feeding of birds (song birds, turkeys, pheasants, etc) can also be unlawful if it attracts ungulates or bears." Anderson noted that anyone wishing to report a violation can call 1-800-TIPMONT (-1-800-847-6668) or FWP at 752-5501.

FWP Warden Chris Crane recently has observed problems with feeding of deer in Whitefish. "Feeding of deer has already resulted in attracting a mountain lion to a residential area near the feeding site,” he said. He also noted that he observed a near car-deer collision where a deer was crossing the road to get to a feeding site. Crane added that feed includes grain, salt and mineral blocks, "Deer Blocks", apples, bird seed, and even table scraps.

Here are some facts about feeding wildlife:

Supplemental feeding encourages wildlife to become dependent on handouts that are not part of their natural diets.

Human foods are usually not suited for wildlife and may lead to health problems.

Young animals that are taught to depend on humans sometimes never develop normal foraging behavior, and could starve if the artificial food sources are removed or more likely become nuisances and come in conflict with humans.

Wildlife lose their fear of humans and learn that they can boldly forage for human food, causing possible risks to human safety.

Wild animals being fed by humans may congregate in unnaturally high numbers, and this is the perfect opportunity for diseases to spread.

Feeding wildlife, especially prey species such as deer, squirrels and rabbits, often causes a domino or food chain effect. Example: Increase deer numbers in your yard and you may be inviting a mountain lion for a free meal.

Once limited only to bears, the revised law is aimed primarily at feeding to purposely attract certain wildlife to a particular area with things like grain, seeds, and salt licks, but also includes negligently failing to properly store garbage. Offenders could be charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine of $1,000, six months in jail and you could lose your privileges to hunt, fish or trap. The law does not apply to normal feeding of livestock, backyard gardens, some recreational bird feeding, or to commercial processing of garbage.

Dogs at large: Wardens want to remind dog owners that domestic dogs can easily be a detriment to deer survival in the winter. When dogs chase deer or other ungulates, these animals are forced to use up valuable reserves needed to survive the winter. It is a violation to the owner of the dog to purposely, knowingly, or negligently permit a dog to chase, stalk, pursue, attack, or kill hooved game animals.