By Jay Burney
On Feb. 21, 2019, The Buffalo News published a photograph of a woman feeding deer at Times Beach Nature Preserve.
The photo caption reads: “Her actions help the deer by making sure they don’t have to forage as much to survive the winter when the food is scarce.”
This is exactly the opposite message that conservationists, including New York State conservation officers, have regarding the ecological health and conservation value of the Outer Harbor, the Times Beach Nature Preserve, the health of individual deer and the deer herd.
The next day I witnessed several cars visit the site and people were happily feeding the deer along the road at the nature preserve.
In New York State, feeding deer is illegal. New York State Environmental Law Title 6, Codes, Rules and Regulations, makes it illegal to feed deer except under special circumstances that are not present at Times Beach.
Corn is a deer killer. The deer’s digestive system this time of the year is finely tuned to natural forage and browse. A sudden addition of the high carbohydrate diet provided by corn can lead to acidosis and death, sometimes within 72 hours.
Feeding deer corn, vegetables, fruits and other products promotes bad nutrition. In truth, science tells us that this human-manufactured diet weakens the animals, and opens the door to chronic wasting disease, an easily transmitted brain disease that is devastating the deer population.
Not that long ago, a women feeding deer in Cheektowaga’s Stiglmeier Park was prosecuted, after repeated warnings, and spent time in jail. This is a serious law.
No doubt the woman depicted in the recent photo, and those that are flocking to the nature preserve to feed the deer, have good intentions. We applaud their concern and love for wildlife. But the facts are that by feeding the deer, people are creating harm where previously none existed.
These actions will lead to poor deer nutrition and will help encourage concentrations of deer, which will open the doors to the chronic wasting disease that New York State is trying to prevent.
The good news is that this year, as in most winters, even after heavy snow, there is plenty of natural and nutritious natural browse for the deer population. This is true at Times Beach and throughout the Outer Harbor.
Ironically, feeding the deer so that they do not have to forage introduces a dependence on non-nutritious food substances that will lead to disease. The deers’ biology is being starved of healthy, natural food.
If you want to help the deer, do not feed the deer.
Jay Burney is a founder of the Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve.