When natural foods become scarce over the winter, many of us feel sorry for the deer and want to ease their suffering. When we see hungry animals, we might want to feed them, just to help. But no matter how well-intentioned, putting out food for deer and other big game animals can cause tremendous harm. (Here in Montana, it’s also illegal to intentionally feed big game.)
That’s why I’m sharing my latest Montana Outdoors article, “Death by Feeding: The unintended—and sometimes fatal—consequences of providing food to deer, elk, moose, and other wildlife in winter.” I think many people who feed deer love wildlife and are just trying to help. Unfortunately, those efforts can backfire, in more ways than I could have imagined before I started researching this story. I had no idea that a large enough dose of high-carb food, when an animal’s gut bacteria are adapted to a sparse, low-carb winter diet, could cause a painful digestive disease that can kill a moose in one or two days. I had no idea just how big a role backyard feeding could play in the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, a slow but certain killer that can affect entire populations of deer.
Fortunately, there are ways we can help deer, elk, and moose through the winter; I’ve included some suggestions from wildlife biologists in the article. But one of the most important ways we can help is to not put out food for them.
If you read the article, please spare a minute for the sidebar on nonnative yews, popular but highly toxic landscaping plants that have also killed big game–including a herd of 50 pronghorn in Payette, Idaho. I have found these at my local nursery with no warnings on the label.
It’s out! My latest children’s book, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, was just released by Riverbend Publishing. The book is available directly from Riverbend, as well as from Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million. It will be available at local bookstores later this spring.
Like other books in this series, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain highlights some of the animals, plants, and places families are most likely to see during their visit to the park. Each section provides a kid-friendly description, detailed “where to see it” advice (though animals don’t always cooperate!), and a place to record sightings and experiences. Researching the fun “guess what?” facts sprinkled throughout the book was one of the best parts for me. Below I’ve given a peek inside the book, showing some of my favorite bighorn sheep pics by photographer Christopher Cauble.
Rocky Mountain National Park is an amazing place; it’s hard to beat the park’s special combination of wildlife, scenery, trails, and tundra. And as long as you pay attention to safety (including weather!), it’s a great place to take kids of all ages and abilities. But it pays to plan ahead when visiting busy national parks like “Rocky.” You can find trip-planning information at the park’s website: www.nps.gov/romo.
Don’t blame me for the focus on this photo. I wasn’t there. This whitetail buck took his own picture and then smashed his nose into my trail camera, which is now covered with teeth marks.
My family and I don’t use our trail cam for hunting; we use it for spying on our wild visitors. After a snowstorm last winter, I crisscrossed our land looking for tracks, then set up the camera along the busiest game trail. That first photo of an elk got me hooked. Later I aimed the camera at a retired fox den, which turned out to be a sort of wildlife crossroads, visited by skunks, deer, squirrels, birds, raccoons, coyotes, and not surprisingly, foxes.
My trail camera photos and videos are modest, all taken in my big backyard. But I couldn’t resist giving them their own Trail Cam page. (As I’m not on Facebook, where else am I supposed to share my blurry skunk pics?) If you want to see more impressive trail camera footage, visit the Mission Valley Grizz Cam. Amazing bears.
When you hear coyotes howl, do you ever wish you had a translator? I became especially curious a couple of summers ago when a pack of coyotes moved into the gully below my house, and as far as I could tell, started raising a family. The coyotes kicked up a chorus for almost any loud sound, including the roar of commercial jets flying over the neighborhood. That noisy summer is the subject of “Awake at night and listening to coyotes,” my latest essay in High Country News (titled “Overheard in Montana” in the print edition, which was published September 4, 2017). My thanks to researcher Brian R. Mitchell for answering my questions about coyote vocalizations.
I’m excited to announce the release of What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the NationalPark on April 1 (available through Amazon and Riverbend Publishing). I wrote the text and Christopher Cauble provided the many beautiful photographs.
Our book offers a sampler of many of the animals, plants, and places families are likely to see on a trip to the park, as well as space for children to record their own sightings. It also includes fun facts on everything from ranger hats to earthquakes. The wildlife “Guess what?” sections are some of my favorites. Did you know that bluebird feathers aren’t really blue? Or that the pronghorn’s closest living relatives are not antelope? (Hint: They are found in Africa and can grow up to 19 feet tall.) I liked digging into the research to find surprising details even about common species.
After spending a fair amount of time in the Tetons as a kid, I enjoyed reconnecting with the park and learning more about its history and incredible diversity of wildlife and plants. The book provides a fun guide for kids visiting Grand Teton National Park, and I hope it will spark an interest in wildlife and natural areas for at least a few of them.
It can be tough to decide what risks are acceptable for your children, especially if you’ve had a chance to see what can go wrong in the mountains. For my take, see my essay published April 4, 2016 in High Country News, “Take a page from the mountain goats.” (In the print edition, see “Risk, goats, and kids in the mountains.”)
My kids used to ask, “What’s that big, black bird, Mom?”
I always answered, “It’s a crow, or maybe, um, a raven.”
But now I know the difference. If you want to know what to look for, check out my short piece about crows in the March-April 2015 issue of Montana Outdoors magazine (currently unavailable online).
Unfortunately, I had space for just a small percentage of all the fun stuff I learned about crows. Even though I usually find them eating garbage in the Target parking lot, they’re some of the smartest animals on Earth.
I got interested in crows after watching the PBS Nature special, “A Murder of Crows.” It’s well worth an hour if you have the time.