Emergency feeding of deer begins in Summit County | ParkRecord.com

Emergency feeding of deer begins in Summit County

Deep snow is pushing elk, deer to extremes

Pamela Manson
A mule deer stands along Old Lincoln Highway in Wanship on Monday. | David Jackson/Park Record
Mule Deer along Old Lincoln Highway in Wanship. David Jackson/Park Record

Heavy snow this winter is making it hard for deer to find enough to eat in parts of Summit and Rich counties and causing elk searching for food to wander down the mountains to the mouth of Parleys Canyon, including a herd that delayed traffic on Interstate 80 in Salt Lake City.

The 60-plus elk crossed I-80 last Wednesday night and congregated next to the highway near Foothill Drive, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

DWR conservation officers and biologists, with the help of Salt Lake City police and the Utah Highway Patrol, herded the elk across Foothill Drive/Parley’s Way on Thursday and then used snowmobiles to get the animals to move up the Shoreline Trail toward the mountains.

But due to heavy snow, the elk have continued to migrate to the area and to cross the busy streets to search for food, a DWR Facebook post says. A large number came back over the weekend and gathered on the west side of Foothill Drive, where they were being monitored by DWR biologists until further action could be taken.

“This is not uncommon to have this each winter,” Faith Heaton Jolley, DWR public information officer, said. “It’s part of their normal migration. When their higher elevation areas are getting covered by snow, they’ll migrate into lower elevation areas looking for food sources, typically sagebrush. They’re coming even further down into the valleys to find exposed food sources right now.”

The heavy snowfall has led to a bigger influx of elk this year than in more mild winters, Jolley said.

The DWR is urging residents and commuters to use caution and decrease their speed when driving in the area. Elk and other big game animals can be especially active during low-light conditions and are difficult to see on the roadway, the Facebook post says.

The elk have kept the DWR busy in the past few weeks.

DWR officers relocated two elk on Jan. 16 that had been wandering around the Yalecrest neighborhood over the weekend. A tweet from the Salt Lake City Police Department said the “cool and very pretty visitors” likely were attracted to the fresh salt on the roads.

On Jan. 24, a bull elk on the east side of Foothill Drive was seen rearing up and dropping over dead and a cow elk around the same area was hit and killed by a vehicle later that same day, Jolley said. The bull elk was tested to determine the cause of death; DWR is awaiting the results, she said.

DWR officers tranquilized and relocated a bull elk that was spotted in the area of 1700 South and Foothill Drive on Jan. 25.

The deep snow also has caused the DWR to implement emergency deer feeding in one location in Summit County and 11 locations in Rich County, based on recent health checks that showed the animals there have below average body fat, Mark Hadley, northern region outreach manager, said. Hadley said pellets that match the unique nutritional needs and digestive system of the mule deer are being distributed in those areas by DWR biologists and volunteers.

Hadley said the biologists make the health assessments across the state every winter and monitor the condition of the deer, the availability of natural food, the temperatures and snow depths.

“If it reaches a point where the conditions are severe enough, where the deer are starting to show signs of struggling, that’s when we start to feed these specially designed pellets to the animals,” he said.

The last time the DWR had emergency deer feeding was in 2017.

The deer are fed every day in areas where the vegetation they eat is covered by snow, DWR Northern Region Wildlife Manager Jim Christensen said in a news release. Their only meals are the pellets — no alfalfa, grass hay or other products will be used — and the public is asked not to feed them.

“Deer will eat hay, but if that is their only source of feed during the winter they can have a very difficult time digesting it,” Christensen said. “We often find dead deer with stomachs filled with hay. We appreciate people wanting to help the deer, but we strongly discourage people from feeding hay or other things to deer.”  

He also encouraged people to give the deer plenty of space. If the animals have to run or move away from people repeatedly, they use up the fat reserves they built up during the warmer months and the energy that they need to make it through the winter, he said.

Conservation officers are conducting additional patrols to help reduce the stress that people might be putting on the deer.

Wildlife harassment can be reported to a conservation office by calling the UPiP Hotline at 800-662-3337, providing information on the free UTDWR app or texting 847411. (Include UTIPNRO in the text to direct it to officers in the northern part of the state).

No food is put out at areas where chronic wasting disease has been found. Bringing deer together at a feeding station increases the chance that the highly contagious disease will spread in the herd.

DWR biologists are continuing to monitor the condition of deer across the state and might begin feeding the animals in additional locations.

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