The province's Ministry of Natural Resources is reminding people not to feed deer or to let dogs run after them.
"Though there may be snow and it may be cold, that does not necessarily mean that deer need extra help," said Jolanta Kowalski, a spokesperson for the ministry.
Wrong kinds of feed can cause digestive problems, and even if the right type of feed is used, feeding can lead to other issues, including:
- Encouraging more deer in an area that might not have the habitat to support them (leading to poor reproduction, smaller fawns and higher winter mortality rates).
- More deer-vehicle collisions as deer cross roads to get to feeders.
- Deer losing their natural fear of humans.
- Bringing natural predators, such as wolves, closer to populated areas where feeders are placed.
- Increasing the risk of disease transmission among deer and other animals.
- Increasing the metabolic rate of deer, therefore increasing the amount of food they need.
- Causing stress-related deaths in deer who become used to feeding and have it suddenly stop.
Donna DuBreuil is with the Ottawa Carleton Wildlife Centre. She said there are definitely more urban deer at this time of the year, and that those deer have no choice but to rely on backyard feeders.
"With most of the development that's gone on in Ottawa where there [are] deer, not a lot of that food is available to them, so I think people will continue feeding," she said.
But Kowalski said people shouldn't feed deer unless they're asked to by the ministry specifically.
"Feeding, while it seems like a good idea on the surface, can actually lead to a lot of problems and we discourage it, unless there's a specific appeal that goes out from the ministry asking people to help with feeding, but again, that happens very rarely."
It remains legal for hunters, during hunting season, to use bait to lure deer for harvest, Kowalski said in an email.
"Hunters can bait deer but hunting season doesn’t usually coincide with the times when deer are seeking out food in the heart of winter," Kowalski wrote. "Also during hunting season, what you are baiting the animal with doesn’t really matter if you plan to harvest the animal anyway."
The ministry is also reminding people that it's illegal to allow dogs to run loose and chase deer during the non-hunting season.
Under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, it's also illegal to let dogs run loose in areas inhabited by moose, elk, caribou and bears.