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Lawmakers may consider bill prohibiting the feeding of wildlife

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Deer Munchies

A young deer munches on leaves from a tree outside the Casper Star-Tribune building on Wednesday morning in Casper.

Lawmakers are expected to discuss Monday whether the state needs a law prohibiting people from feeding big and trophy game animals to prevent them from gathering in urban areas.

“Basically, we don’t really have an overall law against feeding wild animals,” said Sen. Stan Cooper, R-Kemmerer. “Here in Kemmerer, we have people feeding them. We have more deer in town than we have in the country.”

Cooper is co-chairman of the Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, which is meeting Monday and Tuesday in Jackson to discuss intentional and negligent of game animals, shed antler hunting and other wildlife issues.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department advises against feeding wildlife, said Brian Nesvik, the department’s chief game warden.

When people feed them, they tend to concentrate artificially in those areas. They come into conflict with people, which can be dangerous for humans, their pets and other wildlife, he said.

In Casper, for instance, people who live along Garden Creek have encouraged deer to stick around by feeding them pellets. But just as many people dislike deer for eating from gardens and lawns and damaging garden ornaments, Nesvik said. It is also not good for the animals themselves.

“Transitioning a brush species to alfalfa pellets is not healthy for the deer,” he said.

Many states have laws and regulations on feeding of wildlife. Within Wyoming, there are prohibitions in Sundance, Buffalo, Thermopolis, Jackson, Dubois, Cody, Cheyenne, Newcastle, Lander, Laramie and Rawlins, he said.

Rep. Glenn Moniz, R-Laramie, is requesting the discussion and a possible bill, said Cooper, the committee co-chairman. Moniz did not return calls from the Star-Tribune.

Sundance Mayor Paul Brooks said people in Sundance were originally feeding wild turkeys, who came into town by the hundreds each fall because of the area’s apple trees. They would stay through the winter. Residents felt bad for them when the snow was deep and would feed them.

Mule deer also came to Sundance to eat green grass along a creek that winds through town. People then began feeding them to keep them around. Town leaders wanted permission to eradicate the population by shooting them. Game and Fish officials first required a no-feeding ordinance, he said.

“The mule deer were pretty aggressive,” he said. “We had a couple people get mauled by them when they were walking their dogs.”

The town passed the ordinance about five years ago, Brooks said, and also received permission to eradicate the deer.

“Our ordinance was based on trying to get the deer killed off,” he said. “And that’s how we got into it. But it has been effective.”

Lawmakers will also discuss shed antler hunting, when people collect antlers that elk, moose and deer lose each year. It’s a popular pastime for families and people who use them to make art. Selling antlers can be lucrative, earning up to $17 a pound, said Cooper, the committee chairman.

Starting in the 1990s, some people followed game, waiting for them to shed, which was stressful to the wildlife, according to a Game and Fish white paper on the issue. In the severe winter of 1996 and 1997, wildlife managers observed an increase in the number of deer dying on crucial winter ranges in western Wyoming, in part because they were displaced from areas where they could have had a better chance of survival -- places shed hunters frequented.

That led to a ban on public lands of shed hunting west of the Continental Divide from Oct. 1 to April 30 each year.

Some people are requesting the ban be adopted east of the Continental Divide, too, but Cooper said most members of the public have testified before the committee this year that the ban west of the Divide is not working.

The Game and Fish Department does not support changing the shed hunting rules, said department spokesman Renny MacKay.

“Our role right now is to pass on information to the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife legislative committee,” he said.

The Wyoming board of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers opposes further restrictions on shed hunting, said Jeff Muratore, of Casper.

Muratore and his kids enjoy finding freshly shed antlers in the springtime. Sometimes he uses them to repair antlers on his taxidermied animals, and sometimes sells them. Mostly it’s a family activity, he said.

The seasonal ban has failed, he added.

“Everybody goes at one time, on May 1, so you have a whole bunch of people in the field,” he said. “You have people who go ahead of time, who walk through and locate the sheds. Some of them stockpile them (in hidden caches), which is illegal.”

Muratore thinks that Game and Fish officers should end the seasonal ban in favor of rules against harassing wildlife for their sheds.

“Fine those people,” he said. “Charge those people with wildlife harassment.”

Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock.

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