By now nearly everyone has heard the expression “a fed bear is a dead bear.”

That wisdom should inform humans’ behavior with all species of wildlife.

The science is clear. Wild animals have adapted for thousands of years to the harsh winters of Wyoming, and their bodies can’t handle a sudden change to rich foodstuffs.

Deer or moose lured to backyards also cross more roads and run the risk of being struck and killed by a vehicle.

When animals congregate around a trough, they are more susceptible to disease.

Wildlife that is emboldened and habituated is less wild.

For all of these reasons, people shouldn’t meddle with nature.

In a harsh winter like this, more wild animals will die. The sick and weak won’t make it. That means the ones that do survive will be hardier and have better genes. It’s natural selection at work.

That may seem cruel, but it’s part of the cycle of life.

Part of the magic of winter is that wild animals come out of the shadows. Snow forces them down from the higher elevations. In the valley they forage on weeds, bark and twigs, the foods their ancestors have eaten every winter for millennia.

Compassion for fellow life forms is part of human nature, but it needs to be channeled into a form of love that’s constructive.

The best way to help wildlife stay wild and alive is to watch them from a distance. Appreciate their cold-adapted coats, their majestic antlers and their ability to survive a bleak season. Let them be.

The exception to the feeding rule, of course, are the feedgrounds staffed and run by federal and state officials. Management and feeding of the Jackson Elk Herd is a topic that’s been debated for more than a century, with some scientists pressuring politicians to phase out the meals.

That’s a topic for another day, but the writing is on the wall.

The power of Jackson Hole is that it allows people to intimately connect with the environment. There are plenty of ways to do that without feeding or physically touching wild animals, which harms them and makes them less wild.

Take a picture. Enjoy their grace. Relish chance encounters.

And keep your food to yourself.

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(5) comments

Robert Wharff

I find it ironic that our Wildlife professionals speak out of both sides of their face. We make exceptions to feed elk, which are less likely to succumb to harsh winter conditions, and allow our mule deer herds to face starvation.
It is against the law for people to neglect animals under their care but we are told it is a natural process for wildlife.
During harsh winter conditions, a lot of animals would die without some assistance. The truth is mule deer can be successfully fed during extreme winter conditions but it requires a lot of man power and a significant amount of time. The decision to provide a supplement to their diet needs to be made early because a feeding program thrown together will not be successful. While working on a private ranch in Northern UT, we learned that the decision to feed needs to be made around the end of November. There may be few deer that attend feeding sights but if the winter conditions continue to worsen you will begin to see more deer arriving. The deer aren't hurt by a supplemental feeding program done right. They are significantly reduced and their limited winter range can be damaged by over utilization.
A friend of mine recently asked "if we are going to allow mule deer numbers to self-regulate, why do we need a game and fish department."
The G&F committed that they would feed mule deer if conditions were as bad as they were in '91-'92 but once again they didn't follow through with their commitment. Should they be held accountable for neglecting our mule deer herds? Only the public can do this and so far, too many appear unwilling to risk holding their feet to the fire. Until then, mule deer numbers will continue to decline and elk will be fed.

Byron Baker

I think if the people responsible for maintaining our wildlife herds (Elk, Bison, Moose, Mule Deer, Antelope) did their jobs better, not allowing the enviros to influence them, all would be well.

Cory Hatch


Byron Baker

It is humorous and somewhat ironic to see anonymous comments about a Forest animal issue. It is obvious that many folks do not have all the information. Please contact the Game and Fish for answers that are needed. We need the opinions of qualified personnel.

I am most of the residents of Wyoming support feeding Elk throughout the state. There are numerous feeding grounds. Why? Because Elk are being slaughtered by an invasive species, Canadian Wolves. Last year in Bondurant the Elk slaughter was so high, leaving dead uneaten pregnant Elk cows on the road near the post office.

Want to stop feeding the Elk? Kill the wolves.


Jay Westemeier


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