On feeding wildlife

Today, I drove past a woman standing in her driveway. A family of deer—a doe and two fawns stood nearby, probably within five yards. The woman tossed something green and round toward the doe. I realized it was probably an apple.

How sweet, I thought to myself.

Then I remembered that this is the very practice that the Pennsylvania Game Commission wants to ban:

The state Game Commission wants to ban what [Gary] Livingston is doing — a pastime for tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who live in semi-rural areas — because of the belief that it leads to the unnatural congregating of animals and the spread of disease.

“Disease transmission is probably at the forefront of the issues related to wildlife feeding. Habituation is another,” said Mike Steingraber, state game warden supervisor for the commission’s North Central Region.

Habituation is defined as the tendency for wildlife to become less wary of humans, while at the same time becoming dependent on humans, he said. Habituation also leads to nuisance problems in areas where people live and safety problems on roadways.

But the biggest concern driving the wildlife feeding proposal is the spread of chronic wasting disease, or CWA. The progressive, fatal disease has been found in the wild deer population in 10 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.[1]

The practice of putting food out to lure animals to be hunted is already banned. This is about people who love wildlife, like to watch them, or find them “therapeutic.”[2]

As I thought about that woman feeding the deer, it struck me that we humans are already here in their environment. There’s a certain unreality to what the Game Commission proposes that fails to address that we are already neighbors with wildlife.

I will never forget that time when I lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of Los Gatos, California, that I saw a huge mountain lion, a truly magnificent creature whom I felt honored me with its presence.

And I think I like the relationship that woman has with that family of deer a lot better than I would if she were hunting them.

I also remember driving into Fairfax, California, one night: a deer was waiting on a sidewalk at the crosswalk. Without thinking, I stopped the way I do for a human pedestrian. The deer walked across, staying within the lines of the crosswalk, just as a human should, and then walked down the sidewalk on the other side.

If only humans were so well-behaved, I thought to myself as I craned my neck in disbelief to watch the deer now walking behind me.

Here in Pennsylvania, I see more wildlife than I ever did in California. I saw a couple foxes running across the road the other day. Groundhogs all too often get smashed. I see rabbits, cardinals, and chickadees, which I almost never saw in California, as well as robins, sparrows, and squirrels, which I most certainly did. I’m grateful for their presence and sorry that so many animals are so often hit by cars.

I wish I had an answer for the Game Commission’s concerns. But I can’t imagine telling that woman she shouldn’t feed the deer.

  1. [1]Associated Press, “Proposed ban on feeding wildlife irks some in Pennsylvania, Penn Live, August 10, 2019, https://www.pennlive.com/life/2019/08/proposed-ban-on-feeding-wildlife-irks-some-in-pennsylvania.html
  2. [2]Associated Press, “Proposed ban on feeding wildlife irks some in Pennsylvania, Penn Live, August 10, 2019, https://www.pennlive.com/life/2019/08/proposed-ban-on-feeding-wildlife-irks-some-in-pennsylvania.html

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