Frequently asked questions:
Wildfires in Washington, most east of the Cascades, burned thousands of acres this year. While some traditional, lower-elevation winter range for deer and elk burned, the overall impact to wildlife has been minimal.
In fact, the fires will rejuvenate the habitat and improve forage for deer, elk, bighorn sheep and other wildlife over the next several years.
2012 Fire Season Impacts on WDFW Land and Wildlife
Summary of fire-related facts and known consequences to wildlife areas and wildlife. Information is dynamic in nature and subject to changes and updating.
What are the short-term impacts?
With a majority of the winter range intact, most deer and elk will likely survive if 2012-13 winter conditions are normal. However, heavy snow could force deer and elk herds affected by the fires to move into adjacent available range.
The timing and depth of snow in the high eastern Cascades, particularly in northcentral Washington, is the biggest challenge for deer survival. Modest to moderate snow depths late in the winter allow deer to use range between 3,000 and 4,000 feet, keeping them out of residential valleys. But severe snow depths above 3,000 feet may drive deer to river valleys.
Will WDFW feed deer or elk this winter in areas burned by wildfires?
No decisions have been made, but WDFW generally tries to avoid supplemental feeding of wildlife. The department does sometimes employ emergency winter feeding during severe weather in some areas where winter range has been lost to wildfires. Circumstances such as long-range weather forecasts, severity of snow and temperatures, the animals’ condition and the potential to cause agricultural damage are considered before WDFW initiates emergency feeding operations.
What are the downsides of feeding?
It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide the proper feed, in sufficient amounts, for the length of time necessary to be effective. For example deer generally need about five pounds of alfalfa pellets per animal per day. So, 1,000 deer would need about 155,000 pounds – or about 77 tons – of feed per month. (Currently alfalfa pellets cost about $500 per ton.) Once started, feeding must continue until spring. In addition to the cost of the feed, department resources – staff, equipment and fuel – must be allocated to conduct winter feeding operations.
Moreover, feeding concentrates animals, making them more vulnerable to disease, predators and poaching. Concentrated numbers of animals also can damage nearby private property, such as fences and shrubbery. Public safety also can be an issue. Feeding can draw animals into areas near roads, leading to collisions with vehicles.
For more information on the downsides of feeding, visit the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies discussion on supplemental feeding.
Does WDFW have winter feeding stations?
Yes, but they are not designed to sustain animal populations. Instead, WDFW conducts winter feeding in some areas, such as the Oak Creek Wildlife Area, to keep wildlife from damaging nearby orchards and other agricultural areas. Many orchards are in traditional wintering areas for elk, and without feeding and fencing, the animals would cause extensive damage to orchards.
How can I help?
The best way to help wild animals in winter is to avoid disturbing them. Animals must conserve their energy to survive winter conditions, and human disturbance causes them to move about. Keep dogs confined, and slow down when traveling in motor vehicles through deer and elk habitat.
However, if you choose to feed deer the best ration is standard goat pellets. If you choose to feed elk, standard alfalfa hay is adequate. Feeding should begin soon after hunting seasons have ended or by Jan. 1. Once started, feed should be provided through April or once spring green-up is well under way. It’s important to note that it can take several weeks for a deer’s digestive system to adjust to hay or other artificial feed. If they don’t have enough fat reserves to get through the adjustment period, deer can die even with bellies full of feed they can’t digest.