I wanted to remind folks about prohibitions against the feeding wildlife, specifically deer and elk, that recently have come into effect as of September 1 --- from September 1 through January 3 of each year, it is prohibited by established regulations of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to provide any food resources not considered to be naturally occurring to deer or elk; this includes salt and mineral blocks as well (see below). Similarly, there is a year-round prohibition in effect for the feeding of bears. These regulations do not mean that food plots, installed following sound agricultural best management practices (BMPs) and maintained in their natural state, need to be removed; as long as nothing is done to supplement (i.e., sprinkle with cracked corn, etc., which constitutes “baiting”) or change the natural growth form or accessibility of the resources in that plot (such as bush hogging seed-bearing crops on to the ground prior to a hunt), continued maintenance of food plots is allowed --- but, the plot must remain in a natural condition. However, hunters should make note … if supplemental feeding had been occurring in an area prior to the closure date, all such artificially provided food materials must be removed by September 1 and no hunting can take place in the affected area for 10 days after feeding had ceased or after such removal had taken place … in legal terms, it remains a “baited site” for 10 days.
At this time of year, we receive a lot of calls from individuals who are not hunters, are not aware of or do not understand the rationale for the regulations, and wish to continue supplemental feeding; the information provided below, taken directly from the agency’s web site, should help you address some of those questions. A common issue that arises each year pertains to bird feeding stations that people maintain in their backyards — guidance on how to interpret the regulation in this kind of circumstance states that, if a deer can access a feeder during the period of prohibition and obtain food resources as a result of that action, the individual who is maintaining the feeders could be cited as “feeding” deer. In such cases, owners rarely are cited (although it would be legal to do so), and instead are asked simply to raise the feeders above the level at which deer can gain access; refusal to do so likely will result in a citation, though.
Biologically, there is no justifiable science-based reason that supports supplemental feeding of deer … they can do and currently are doing quite well on their own statewide utilizing naturally occurring food resources. Continuous supplemental feeding leads to habituation, the potential spread of disease, and often increases the number of human-wildlife conflicts that arise in the area adjacent to feeding sites, as noted below. If you have the opportunity to do so, please help spread the word and hopefully lead to reducing some of the conflicts with wildlife we currently are witnessing across the Commonwealth.
James A. Parkhurst, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Wildlife Science and
Extension Wildlife Specialist
Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation (0321)
100 Cheatham Hall, Virginia Tech
310 West Campus Drive
Blacksburg, VA 24061
(540) 231-9283 / (540) 231-7580 (fax)