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Deer, elk don't need emergency feeding over snow

It’s been a rough snow winter in some of Oregon’s woods this year, particularly in northeast Oregon. I know in the past when we have had heavy snow years we have deer and elk dying of starvation. Are there any plans to feed deer and elk to get them through the rest of the winter?

— Anonymous

While it has been a pretty strong snow year for mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk in parts of Eastern Oregon, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife doesn’t have any plans to conduct emergency feeding for wildlife, says Michelle Dennehy, ODFW’s Wildlife Division spokeswoman.

Emergency feeding of big game is generally accepted as ineffective and at times can be detrimental, Dennehy says.

Feeding programs only reach a small portion of the targeted deer and elk and can permanently divert deer and elk off traditional winter range, according to ODFW. Also, feeding creates unusual densities of animals, which can result in increased disease transmission, predation and poaching, according to ODFW.

The agency instead focuses its efforts on habitat enhancement projects that improve winter range and connect habitats so things like Highway 97 don’t act like a barrier to migrating deer and elk, according to Dennehy.

However, the agency has a long-standing winter feeding program at the Elkhorn, Wenaha, Jewell and White River wildlife areas, where agricultural fed is laid out specifically to keep deer and elk off nearby farms and ranches and is done until the spring green brings natural food back into play, according to ODFW.

Emergency feeding has not come up this year in part because snow levels are generally at or slightly below average throughout most of Oregon. The only real difference is in the Owyhee River Basin, where some Natural Resources Conservation Service SNOTEL sites are showing snow levels at almost 150 percent of average. The basin’s overall snow level was listed Tuesday at 124 percent of average.

By comparison, the Rogue River and Umpqua River basins were listed Tuesday at 88 percent of average.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.