Deer will get some extra food this winter to protect orchards near Pateros, although the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) believes that deer are doing well overall despite the many acres of their traditional forage that burned in the summer’s wildfires.
Mild weather and below-average snow cover — after a wet fall that spurred lush growth — appear to be providing the deer with more than adequate food supplies, according to Jim Brown, WDFW’s north central regional director.
The main reason for the temporary feeding program is to lure deer away from orchards, many of which are vulnerable because so much fencing burned, said Brown.
“Deer often concentrate during the winter near Pateros’ fruit tree orchards — independent of the effects of fire — and cause damage,” he said.
WDFW uses specially formulated feed and emphasizes that people should not independently feed deer, because the wrong diet — particularly such things as fruits and grains — can actually harm the animals.
If supplemental feeding maintains a deer population that is too large for available habitat, it can also be counterproductive, according to Scott Fitkin, WDFW district wildlife biologist.
“All those deer will mow down any shrubs trying to resprout, setting back both the quantity and quality of healthy winter range for years to come,” said Fitkin.
About half of the fawns born each year typically do not survive the winter in Okanogan County, but deer that are healthy can generally survive on fat reserves for two to three months with minimal forage, according to Fitkin.
The Methow Valley chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation has raised almost $10,000 raised for habitat restoration and reseeding of the area burned by the Carlton Complex Fire.