With the advent of an early snowfall and a forecast for above average precipitation this winter, many residents may be tempted to feed what they perceive as starving animals along the roadsides or in their yards. Deer, elk and moose (of the cervid family), are ruminants with complex digestive systems that can be subject to an agonizing death from a food "hand out" they are not adapted for.
With the onset of winter, the natural progression of a cervid's diet is from high carbohydrate leaves and forbs that store fat to a slimmer diet of low carb browse, including shrubs and tree bark. During the winter, the stored fat reserves are burned for needed energy as the temperature drops. An elk can survive approximately six weeks with no food, just by chewing their cud. In addition, our valley has experienced animal deaths due to the consumption of ornamental yew plants. Your gardener can assist you with plant identification and removal if you suspect you have some in your yard.
We can help animals through the winter by providing and protecting high-quality habitat. Homeowners with larger lots can plant native vegetation and winter cover such as dense conifer stands and cattail marshes. Fencing should be suitable for animals to cross in order to reach natural habitats.