Artificial feed sites congregate wildlife in unnaturally small areas. Many wildlife diseases are spread from animal to animal by direct contact, through respiration droplets, through saliva, feces and urine, or through contaminated feed or soil. Unnatural congregation at feed sites can expose wildlife, people and pets to diseases. Below are the diseases of most concern but many others can be promoted at artificial feed sites.
CWD – Chronic Wasting Disease is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) that affects deer and elk. This always-fatal disease attacks the animal's brain and causes loss of normal bodily functions. The disease is similar to Mad Cow disease in cattle. CWD can remain infectious in the environment for years, and there is no cure. Deer infected with CWD have been found in numerous locations in Pennsylvania. Learn more.
Mange is a contagious skin condition caused by burrowing mites that affects wildlife worldwide. In some cases, mange can be fatal, debilitating an infected bear through hair loss, damaged skin, secondary bacterial infections, and starvation. Mange in Pennsylvania black bears has progressively increased in frequency and distribution, and is causing concern as cases expand into other Mid-Atlantic states. Wildlife feeding is believed to contribute to the spread of mange by facilitating contact with infected bears or contaminated objects rubbed by infected bears. Learn more.
Bovine tuberculosis is a bacterial disease of the respiratory system. The disease can be fatal to white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, bobcat, coyote, opossum, raccoon and fox, as well as domestic livestock. At present, there have been no confirmed cases of bovine tuberculosis in Pennsylvania's wildlife, but it has been diagnosed in wildlife populations in other states. Learn more.
Lactic acidosis or grain overload is a metabolic disease associated with feeding of deer and elk. Lactic acidosis is the fatal disruption of the body's acid-base balance in the rumen caused by eating foods for which the rumen is not currently adapted, such as corn in winter. Animal deaths due to lactic acidosis are documented annually in Pennsylvania.
Foundering – High carbohydrate foods like corn can also cause foundering – a condition of the hoof related to disruption of the acid-base balance in the rumen. Pain in the growth plate of the hoof causes an irregular step and hooves grow much longer due to atypical contact with the ground. This condition has been documented in Pennsylvania.
Aflatoxicosis is a condition where toxins produced by fungi on spoiled feed, particularly grains, cause mortality to animals including wild turkeys.
Hair loss in deer is a newly emerging disease syndrome. Mild to marked hair loss and soft tissue inflammation of the muzzle are two newly-recognized conditions associated with feeding. The cause of the hair loss syndrome is unknown, but many parasitic, infectious, and toxic causes have been considered. Soft tissue inflammation of the muzzle is a kind of bacterial infection not previously seen in white-tailed deer.
Unnatural congregation can lead to overcrowding. And overcrowding leads to high stress. Larger and more aggressive animals often exclude younger and weaker animals. This stress weakens immune systems, making animals more vulnerable to disease, and can result in injuries or even death for some individuals.
As wildlife is fed, they become used to the presence of people and may seem tame. Coyotes, black bears, and even deer and raccoons can become habituated to humans. Such a situation can pose a threat to the health, safety, and well-being of humans and pets. When wildlife is encouraged to come closer to humans, it is a recipe for disaster for all involved.
Wild animals adapt to their surroundings. Even if they are being fed, there is no substitute for natural food sources. Continually feeding and congregating wildlife degrades the surrounding habitat and reduces its value for all species.
Because of the increasing threats to our wildlife populations, an agency Wildlife Feeding Committee and a citizen Advisory Committee formed to look at the problem and propose possible solutions. Participants selected for the Advisory Committee were intended to represent a variety of stakeholders from the Northcentral Region. The Advisory Committee includes representative(s) from Texas Blockhouse, Sinnemahoning Sportsman, Grays Run Gun Club, Pennsylvania State Camp Association, National Wild Turkey Federation, PA Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Bonnell Run Hunting & Fishing Club, State Representative Garth Everett's office, PA Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau, and Game Commission Forest Game Cooperators: Collins Pine/Kane Hardwood and Seneca Resources Company LLC.
Advisory Committee members met several times to discuss the problem and offer possible solutions. Then the Wildlife Feeding Committee drafted a plan based on their input. Open houses are collecting additional public input from a larger group of constituents throughout July and August. In September the agency hopes to adjust the proposed recommendations and seek final public input on a plan regarding the feeding of big game in Pennsylvania. The Game Commission Executive Office can expect final recommendations in October.
Pennsylvanian's have an increasingly-serious problem that shouldn't be ignored. The Game Commission believes that it is vitally important for the agency to work together with the citizens of Pennsylvania to address this very difficult problem. With greater public input in this process, we believe we can achieve that goal.
There is broad support from the Advisory Committee to extend the current regulations prohibiting feeding of bear and elk to include deer and turkey. There was little support from the Advisory Committee members to ban the feeding of all wildlife, primarily because of the wide use of bird feeders. Expanding the feeding ban to include all big game would address some of the concerns related to wildlife feeding, while allowing for limited feeding of birds.
Banning the feeding of all big game will be a major change, particularly to those who take great personal enjoyment from feeding wildlife. For some, feeding may be their primary means of connecting with Pennsylvania wildlife. We want all Pennsylvanians to enjoy and value our great wildlife resources. The Advisory Committee understood this emotional connection with feeding but recognized the problems it causes, and the majority supported its prohibition. The committee also supported banning the use of urine (both natural and synthetic) scents and lures used to hunt big game.
137.33 Feeding of certain wildlife prohibited.
It is unlawful to intentionally lay or place food, fruit, hay, grain, chemical, salt or other minerals anywhere in this Commonwealth for the purpose of feeding big game to include Elk, Deer, Bear and Turkey, or to intentionally lay or place food, fruit, hay, grain, chemical, salt or other minerals that may cause big game to congregate or habituate an area. If otherwise lawful feeding is attracting big game, the Commission may provide written notice prohibiting the activity.
Wildlife have adapted to their natural environments; their bodies go through natural changes to help them survive throughout the changing seasons.
Wildlife need habitat, not handouts. If you still want to feed wildlife, go native! Consider planting native vegetation that provides both food and cover. Things to consider planting are mast-producing trees for food, conifer trees for cover, and native plants for berries, seeds, and nectar.
Contact your Game Commission region office for additional information on how to create, preserve, or enhance wildlife habitat.