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Biological consequences of winter-feeding of mule deer in developed landscapes in Northern Utah


  • Associate Editor: Nielsen


Winter-feeding of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in developed landscapes is often advocated by stakeholders to compensate for lost or fragmented winter range. However the reported benefits of winter-feeding mule deer to increase survival and productivity in altered landscapes are mixed. Few studies have examined the long-term effects of winter-feeding on mule deer productivity. We studied the effects of a winter-feeding program conducted in a developed landscape in northern Utah, USA from 2001 to 2006 on the productivity, survival, and mortality of 92 adult female deer (does) that were captured and radiocollared on 4 feed and 4 nonfeed sites. We also evaluated the potential for feeding programs to impact winter-range habitat quality through increased browse utilization. Fawn production (P = 0.36), and survival (P = 0.12) did not differ for fed and nonfed does. Deer–vehicle collisions were the primary cause of mortality for radiocollared deer in both populations (P = 0.97). Utilization of desired browse species was higher on sites where deer were fed (P ≤ 0.001), although deer numbers were similar at feed and nonfeed sites. When developing big game winter-feeding policies for developed landscapes, managers must consider the full range of long-term potential population and habitat impacts to include increased anthropogenic-related mortality and increased potential for habitat degradation prior to policy implementation. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.