FWP encourages us to keep wildlife wild in Montana

By Danielle Nason

Do you find yourself looking out the window and wondering how some of the wild animals are faring out there in the cold winter weather? Sitting in a heated home sure does sound a little more welcoming than being outdoors day and night. And then snack time rolls around. Do you find yourself wondering if the animals outside are suffering or even hungry due to the amount of glistening snow covering the ground? Then maybe you wonder, should I feed the animals and help them out a little?

There has long been a debate going on about whether feeding wild animals is legal and if it is safe. You may want to contribute and help when mother nature is harsh, but if you do, you may not be helpful at all.

“We really want to encourage Montanans to do a favor for wildlife and let them get through winter on their own. Please don’t supplemental feed them because it creates a multitude of problems. Even though you may be trying to help the animals, feeding them does more harm than good,” said Montana FWP Information & Education Specialist, Dillon Tabish.

Unfortunately, if you are putting out feed for wild animals, you not only risk bringing in the small animals, but the large animals as well. Where deer go, bear and mountain lions may follow. The thing to remember about the animals here in Montana, is that wildlife is and should be just that, wild.

“With the best of intentions, concerned members of the public may feel the obligation to feed wildlife in these difficult (winter) conditions. However, it’s illegal to knowingly feed wildlife (particularly deer, elk, antelope, moose, wild turkeys, bears and mountain lions). It is also illegal to continue to “attract” animals by failing to properly store attractants such as garbage, dogfood, bird seed, grain, etc.,” said Information and Education Program Manager, Marc Kloker in a Fish Wildlife & Parks press release.

Not only is supplemental feeding illegal, but it creates a public hazard. It is not healthy for wildlife to become dependent on handouts that are manmade. The more that animals are around people, the less they begin to fear people. Wild animals are then able to boldly forage for food in residential areas were children and pets are at play.

One example is the  moose that has been running through town and stopping at every available food source. I ask you, would the moose still be in town if it were not able to find food here? Animals also tend to group together in large numbers, and when this happens is creates the perfect opportunity for disease to spread.

“Young animals that are taught to depend on humans sometimes never develop normal foraging behavior and could starve if the artificial food sources are removed,” said Kloker.

Per the Montana Code Annotated 87-6-216, a person may not provide supplemental feed attractants to game animals or wild turkeys.

“If you have concerns about animals congregating at supplemental feed sites, you can call the Fish Wildlife & Parks,” said Tabish.

Not only is feeding wild animals illegal, but there are some hefty penalties for those who are caught breaking the law. A person convicted of a violation of this law will be fined no less than $50 and no more than $1,000 or be imprisoned in the county detention center for not more than six months, or both. You could also lose any licenses that you hold to hunt, fish or trap or use state land.

After knowing the consequences of feeding the wild animals, maybe just letting them be is the best solution. Animals are made to survive in the natural habitats that they were created in. Who are we to alter that habitat because we think they should have what we want?

Don’t worry though, you can still enjoy feeding our song birds. Bird feeding is permitted under Montana law, as long as you are doing it responsibly.

Per the Montana Code Annotated 45-8-111 (3), A person is not subject to civil or criminal liability under this section if the person is engaged in: (e) recreational feeding of birds unless, after having received a previous warning by the department, the person continues to feed birds in a manner that attracts cloven-