Statewide deer feeding ban goes into effect today

With the start of deer season on the horizon, a ban has been imposed, starting today, on the feeding of deer in the state.

While several counties in the region already ban the practice year-round, including Frederick, Shenandoah, Clarke and Warren counties, the rest of Virginia will be following suit. The ban, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, is in place for several reasons. In areas where the ban isn’t year-round, this new one will run through Jan. 7.

Nelson Lafon, a deer project coordinator for the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said that among the department’s concerns, chronic wasting disease, an invariably fatal disease for deer, is one of its biggest.

“We’re trying to reduce congregations of deer around feeding sites because that’s one way they can transfer the disease agent,” Lafon said. “It’s a protein that is shed in the saliva of deer so if deer are eating over a pile of corn or a salt block, more deer come into contact with each other and could potentially be picking up these proteins and could inadvertently create a new pocket of the disease or spread the disease. We’re concerned about it all year round.”

The symptoms of chronic wasting disease may not appear in individuals for years in some cases, but they can still spread the disease. In an infected deer, death results from starvation, Lafon said.

“Once it gets CWD, it basically starves,” he said. “It can happen over a short period of time. Even though the deer goes downhill quickly, it might take it a couple years before it starts expressing the disease. There’s kind of a delay. That deer could be spreading that disease that whole time.”

Chronic wasting disease is not believed to be transmissible to humans but Lafon said that research of that nature isn’t particularly prevalent and more research needs to be done to definitively categorize it as such.

“As far as we know, there’s no evidence that it can jump the species barrier to humans or domestic animals,” he said. “We never say never though, because other disease have shown to evolve through time. We urge caution. We don’t tell people to stop hunting. It would be recommended to dole the meat out and only keep muscle tissue and try to not infect the meat with nerve tissue.”

In addition to disease concerns, deer becoming more tame is among the department’s worries. Furthermore, deer’s biological hardwiring still tells them to eat vegetation on the way to and at feed sites.

“Deer that feed human placed food can be more tame because they get used to a handout,” Lafon said. “You diminish the wildness of a wild animal when you feed deer. Also, In the immediate vicinity to a food site, deer tend to do more damage to the surrounding area. So they go to and from that artificial food site they’ll still be eating vegetation along the way.”

Lafon also said that the more feed sties there are, the more deer will flock to them, requiring them to cross roads, which leads to more collisions with cars.

The penalties for illegal feeding or baiting of deer is on a fine basis and is a misdemeanor, said Lafon.

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com