Feeding deer is illegal as of Sept. 1

Published 11:00 am Saturday, September 1, 2012

RICHMOND—Effective Saturday, Sept. 1, it will be illegal to feed deer in Virginia.

The annual prohibition runs through the first Saturday in January. This regulation does not restrict the planting of crops such as corn and soybeans, wildlife food plots, and backyard or schoolyard habitats.

The law is intended to curb the artificial feeding of deer that leads to negative consequences. Problems with feeding deer include:

* Unnaturally increasing population numbers that damage natural habitats

* Increasing the likelihood for disease transmission

* Increasing human-deer conflicts such as deer/vehicle collisions and diminishing the wild nature of deer.

In addition, feeding deer has law enforcement implications. 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 Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ conservation police officers.

The Virginia Department of Game Deer Project Coordinators Matt Knox and Nelson Lafon said when the regulation first took effect in 2006 that for more than 20 years the practice of feeding deer had expanded across the eastern United States among both deer hunters and the non-hunting general public.

The most common reason for feeding deer is to improve their nutrition and to supplement the habitat’s ability to support more deer.

According to Knox, many people feed deer because they believe it will keep them from starving, but this is not a legitimate reason to feed deer in Virginia. Deer die-offs due to winter starvation are rare.

“We do not need more deer in Virginia,” Lafon said. “In fact, we need fewer deer in many parts of the state.”