Deer 3

A white-tailed deer.

It is against the law to feed deer and other wildlife in Illinois, and that’s for good reason.


Cindy Cain, public information officer at the Forest Preserve District of Will County, told The Center Square that feeding deer does more harm than good.


“It is never a good idea to feed deer in the wild,” Cain said. “It hurts their ability to survive and it can spread chronic wasting disease,” she said.


It is inevitable that some older deer and some smaller deer will starve every winter. Providing surplus corn or other food not typical to the deer diet will only make the deer’s plight worse, Cain said.


“The state has banned the feeding of deer in Illinois because they do not want chronic wasting disease to spread,” she said. 


Cain said CWD is a cruel disease that causes a long slow death for infected deer. 


It is impossible to tell by looking at a deer if it has been infected with CWD. It takes at least 18 months for a deer that is infected to show symptoms. The only way to contain the spread of CWD is to keep deer from intermingling.


“CWD has the potential to decimate the deer herd in the state,” Cain said. “Providing unnatural foods can interfere with the deer’s ability to make it through the winter months with the natural coping skills that they have developed.”


Deer have evolved to eat less during the frigid winter months, relying on stores of body fat to survive. They forage for stems and grasses, twigs, mushrooms and fruit. 


A normal deer loses up to 20% of its body fat during the winter months when food is scarce. If the deer have to travel beyond their regular grazing territory to get to the human supplied food, they burn up their valuable stores of body fat too quickly. Their digestive systems become disrupted.


“Rich unnatural foods can make them sick or cause them to use too much energy for digestion,” Cain said. 


A human-provided food source will cause too many deer to congregate in the area where the food is. The natural forage in the area will quickly become overgrazed, setting up competition among the deer and causing scarcity of the natural food that the deer need.


Well-meaning people who care about wildlife would do better by turning their attention to backyard bird feeders, Cain said.


“Bird feeding does not make the birds dependent on humans,” Cain said. “Birds will continue to get the majority of their food from the wild.”