Not only the deer benefit from your wildlife management program.
Hunting season is nearly over and Whitetail Deer populations have been reduced to DEC biologist’s standards, meeting habitat and carrying capacities in wildlife management units. Hunting is just one of the necessary components of wildlife management.
With winter setting in early this year, habitat is critical for the remaining wildlife. Shelter is important to protect animals from the elements, but more importantly FOOD becomes the primary concern. Just like a wood stove needs to be fed wood to produce heat, an animal or human needs carbohydrates to produce enough energy to make it through a cold night, let alone a long winter. Long, cold, windy winters, take a toll on wildlife. Starvation is no way of living!
Spring, summer and fall foods are easy to get and plentiful. The winter foods are critical for wildlife to make it through to another year. So with the winter winds starting to blow, the thermometer dropping to zero and snow levels starting to climb, what can we do to help our wildlife survive this winter? Think WINTER food!
So how do you supply quality winter food?
Many folks will say you can’t feed deer in the winter, it’s against the law. Yes, you are right; you can’t bring in bags of corn, grain, carrots or apples to supplement natural food sources. But you can grow winter feed and leave it for wildlife!
If you hunt on farmland, work with the farm owner. Buy them some bags of corn or other crop seeds to plant in field corners or wet spots so they can leave the un-harvested crops for wildlife. Deer will paw through the snow for corn, turnips, pumpkins, and other crops left after harvest. Help the farm owner seed cover crops, ditches and woods roads with a quick rye cover to provide some winter food. Farmers feed all of us, so we need to help them feed wildlife!
Growing and leaving un-harvested winter food is not illegal, but bringing in supplemental feed like corn, apples and sweet feed grain mixes are.
New York State DEC Environmental Law reads as follows;
Part 189 of Title 6 of the Codes, Rules and Regulations of the State of New York was last amended on July 28, 2010. Part of this rule restricts the feeding of deer and moose.
In New York, it is illegal to feed deer and moose by putting out any material that attracts them to feed.
There are five exceptions to the rule:
- Agricultural crops including wildlife food plots.
- Distribution of food to livestock.
- Distribution of food to captive deer and elk.
- Cutting of trees and brush.
- Scientific research, wildlife damage abatement, and wildlife population reduction programs, but only under a permit issued by DEC.
Chronic Wasting Disease is the big culprit that fueled the no deer feeding law.
The following is taken directly from the NYS DEC website, “Concerns for the possible introduction and spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) have resulted in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation enacting regulations to restrict the feeding of deer. The regulations as described by 6NYCRR Part 189 prohibit many of the traditional deer feeding practices that occur in parts of NY. The use of commercial foods which are enhanced by animal protein additives that may or could contain CWD infectious agents are a concern. These products are banned for feeding all ruminants, including deer, cattle, sheep and goats. Additionally, any feeding practices which may result in deer confined to feeding sites increases the likelihood of the transfer of CWD by muzzle to muzzle contact between animals. This practice can also result in feed contamination with feces and urine, and further spread diseases, including CWD. Activities which either concentrate deer or do not routinely replenish food supplies are acceptable and allowed under the CWD regulations because they have much lower levels of risk. Providing naturally occurring browse or wildlife food plots are included in these low risk activities”.
Cutting of trees and brush for wildlife habitat improvement is not illegal, but actually encouraged.
Forest and wildlife management are synonymous!
The chain saw is the tool of choice when it comes to wildlife management. By opening up areas around apple trees, pruning off dead and dying branches and adding some fertilizer in the spring, you can take an old dying, sunlight starved apple and turn it into a healthy apple producing wildlife feeding machine! The branches left can be used to build brush piles for rabbits and the young tender stems will be nipped by deer when feeding. You won’t be wasting anything. Sunlight hitting the ground around the apple trees in spring will stimulate new grass and forb growth that wildlife can feed on. Create openings in the woodlot for browse to grow in.
Loggers know, the sound of a chainsaw is like a dinner bell to a deer. When trees are harvested for saw logs, the tops are left in the woods, supplying browse for deer and grouse.
As a small forest owner what you can do is to start managing your woodlot. Any disturbed areas along woods roads or ditches should be seeded down to a grass or legume mix. Check with your local seed dealers, there are some really neat wildlife seed mixes that provide soil protection and dynamite wildlife food plots, including plants for pollinator species. Wildlife management if done with forethought is multi-tasking at its finest!
If winter deer feeding is your goal, take a look at the following chart and try to manage your vegetation for the foods that deer prefer.
Winter Deer Foods Chart taken from NYS DEC Website Winter Food Chart
The following is a partial listing of tree and shrub species that are eaten by deer in the winter, arranged in order of quality and preference. This listing is based on thousands of observations in deer wintering areas over many years from all parts of New York State.
Preferred or Best Liked:
Cedar, white or arborvitae
Alternate leaved dogwood
Red berried elder
Red osier dogwood
Starvation or Poor Food
Aspen or poplar
Musclewood (Blue beech)
Ironwood (Hop hornbeam)
Raspberry and blackberry
*There is considerable difference in palatability and preference of the different species of this genus.
Cutting out firewood along with general forest management practices will maintain a healthy woodlot, provide wildlife habitat, income and supply a renewable source of energy for heating your home or shop. Thinning out both the woods and the wildlife will provide fuel for both our stove and our bodies, fuel that is naturally grown and harvested from our lands. With sound forest and wildlife management practices you not only supply feed for deer, but you do it the right and legal way. So grab that saw and get to work! Wildlife needs us, as much as we need them!
As rural woodlot owners, self- reliance is our thing. Maintaining our heritage of private property ownership is number one to us. Forest and wildlife management along with hunting involves both the taking from and giving back to our land. How much we take and give back will decide if we are true conservationists or not!
Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.