An often-ignored county regulation prohibiting backyard wildlife feeding is being enforced on the Snake River’s West Bank after neighbors provided evidence of an Irion Lane resident feeding moose.
Teton County’s code compliance officer, Josh Butteris, wrote a “notice of complaint” on Jan. 4, and the letter was delivered by a Teton County sheriff’s deputy.
“We had some fairly strong evidence provided by neighbors that a property owner was feeding moose,” Planning and Building Services Director Chris Neubecker said. “A, it’s illegal. B, it’s very dangerous for people. And C, it’s not healthy for the wildlife. People think that they’re helping in some way, but they’re really not.”
The enforcement case is a rare one, owing to the nature of the rule against feeding, which is a “physical development standard” in the county’s land development regulations and not an easily citable offense. A deputy, for example, cannot simply write a ticket to someone for feeding wildlife, which is not criminalized in Wyoming despite legislative efforts.
The complaint issued in early January is essentially a notice and allows the resident to rectify the situation without penalty.
“According to photos, videos and neighbor concerns, there have been numerous occasions where moose and elk have been occupying and feeding on your property,” the letter states.
Specifically, the resident had been documented providing feed to moose since early 2020 near a garage.
As of Monday, Neubecker wasn’t sure if the feeding had stopped. If a landowner keeps feeding wildlife the county’s recourse is to issue a notice of violation and then to go through the courts. If a judge finds the resident in violation, there’s a potential fine of up to $750 a day.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Department of Transportation and some partner organizations are studying moose movements near the Highway 390 and Highway 22 intersection, a historical hot spot for wildlife-vehicle collisions that will soon be redesigned with crossing structures.
GPS moose movement data from that research suggests that backyard feeding has caused moose to hang around the area, potentially increasing the frequency of animals crossing the highways. Irion Lane is roughly a half mile from the intersection.
Although the Wyoming Game and Fish Department feeds approximately 15,000 elk on its 22 established feedgrounds each winter, biologists with that agency have long advised against feeding deer, moose and other ungulates in backyards. Ill effects of the practice include artificially concentrating animals, spreading diseases like adenovirus and disrupting migrations to more suitable winter range. Counterintuitively, ungulates and especially deer can even die as a result of changing diets abruptly to rich feed, which can lead to toxicosis and rumenitis, aka grain overload.
Teton County’s ban on feeding dates to 2002 when the practice was widespread. Valley Feed and Pet sold about 80 tons of deer feed a year before the ban, according to Jackson Hole News archives.
By some indications, backyard feeding has continued. As of 2017 — 15 years into the ban — not a single violation had been pursued by Teton County’s Planning and Zoning office, former code compliance officer Jennifer Anderson told the News&Guide at the time.
Neubecker’s office now seems to be taking violations more seriously, and county staff is developing a public education campaign. Enforcement is still a challenge, he said.
“We don’t often get hard evidence like photographs,” he said. “It’s hard to catch people in the act. That’s difficult when it comes to code enforcement, especially when it comes to something transient, like animals being in a yard.”