‘Please don’t feed the deer,’ Fairfax County Police warn

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FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Effective September 1, it is illegal to feed deer statewide in Virginia. The annual prohibition runs through the first Saturday in January.

  • All feed must be removed from any deer feeding site prior to September 1st.
  • Any area where deer feed has been distributed is considered a “baited” area and cannot be hunted over for 10 days following the complete removal of the food.
  • It is illegal to feed deer or elk in any county, city, or town during any deer or elk hunting season.
  • It is illegal to feed deer year-round in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren counties and in the City of Winchester as part of the Department’s chronic wasting disease (CWD) management actions.
  • These restrictions do not apply to agricultural plantings (including wildlife food plots) or food distributed to livestock.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries lays out why feeding deer is a bad idea:

Problems with Feeding Deer

Feeding deer can unnaturally increase deer populations and damage natural habitats; increase the likelihood for disease transmission; increase human-deer conflicts such as deer/vehicle collisions, and diminish the wild nature of deer.

Deer hunting over bait is illegal in Virginia. Prior to the deer feeding prohibition, distinguishing between who was feeding deer and who was hunting over bait often caused law enforcement problems for the Department’s conservation police officers.

Deer Are Wild Animals

In their natural state, deer are wild animals that have a fear of humans because we have preyed upon deer for thousands of years. However, when deer are fed by people, they lose this fear, becoming less wild and even tame, in some cases.

Fed deer are often emboldened to seek human foods, leading them into conflict with people. Despite their gentle appearance, they can become lethally dangerous during mating season, capable of goring and slashing with their sharp hooves and antlers. There are numerous cases across the country of individuals injured, and in some cases even killed, by deer they treated as pets.

People often treat the deer they feed as if they own them, even going so far as to name individual deer. Not only does this association diminish the “wildness” of “wildlife,” it also leads to a mistaken notion regarding ownership of wildlife. Deer and other wildlife are owned by all citizens of the Commonwealth and are managed by the Department as a public resource.

Deer Feeding Congregates Animals, Increasing the Spread of Disease

Deer feeding now represents one of Virginia’s biggest wildlife disease risk factors. Deer feeding sets the stage for maintaining and facilitating the spread of disease.

Diseases are a big issue in deer management today across the United States. Feeding deer invariably leads to the prolonged crowding of animals in a small area, resulting in more direct animal to animal contact and contamination of feeding sites. Deer feeding has been implicated as a major risk factor and contributor in three of the most important deer diseases in North America today. These include tuberculosis, brucellosis, and CWD. Since the first case was found in 2009, CWD has been detected in 12 additional deer in Frederick and Shenandoah counties near the West Virginia line.