The survival of the Bear Lake Valley’s mule deer population is in jeopardy this winter as the result of deep snow and bitter temperatures. In an effort to give the deer a fighting chance, biologists with the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) have joined forces with area sportsmen’s groups to establish a feeding station in Garden City.
Greg Sheehan, DWR director, said several thousand deer make up the Bear Lake Valley’s herd, living in smaller groups ranging from ten to several hundred. As the DWR has been monitoring the deer and their winter range, biologists have determined that the animals need supplemental feeding.
“We have a number of triggers that we look at,” said Sheehan. “We look at the body condition of animals, the availability of forage for them to access food readily and easily, and we look at the temperatures to see if we’ve had a sustained period of colder than average temperatures. It’s kind of a combination of factors that we consider to decide if it’s the right time to provide some supplemental feeding.”
As the feeding station becomes operational, Travis Hobbs, the owner of a Garden City construction firm, has allowed the DWR to store 12 tons of specially-formulated deer pellets in his warehouse. Hobbs and his employees have also donated time and heavy equipment to move snow and spread feed. Other organizations supporting the effort include the Mule Deer Foundation, Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Justin Dolling, supervisor of the DWR’s Northern Region, is optimistic about the impact the Garden City feeding station will have on the Bear Lake Valley’s deer.
“Even though the winter has been tough on them,” he stated in a DWR news release, “their body condition is still good. Hopefully the feeding program will help it stay that way.”
Both Dolling and Sheehan emphasize that public feeding of the deer is discouraged. While the pellets provided by the DWR meet the unique nutritional needs of the deer and are suitable for their digestive systems, Sheehan warns that other foods that may be offered could actually be harmful or fatal to deer whose health has been compromised by harsh weather conditions.
This season marks the first winter since 2008 that emergency deer feeding has been required in Utah, and the Bear River Valley is the only location where a feeding station has been necessary thus far. The DWR is prepared to establish similar feeding stations in other areas as required.
“We monitor these different conditions and triggers throughout the state,” said Sheehan, “and even though we see a lot of snow every year, there’s still usually very limited areas and situations where we’ll come in and do this. The intent is to be supplemental feeding, so we’ll provide some feed in those areas where there’s still some available food, but this helps supplement them until conditions allow them to move around a little bit more easily.”