As winter winds down and spring approaches, the Division of Wildlife Resources is encouraging pet owners to keep their dogs on a leash.
"Deer and dogs don't mix," said Walt Donaldson, Northeastern Region supervisor for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "We are having some serious problems with dogs chasing deer on the winter ranges."
Dog owners need to be aware that any dog will chase deer and that the chase does reduce the deer's chance of survival.
"Some dog owners just allow their dogs to run free, and others think it's fun to let their dogs chase deer when they go for walks or participate in other outdoor recreation. These people are putting the deer in jeopardy."
Even if the dogs don't catch the deer, chasing seriously decreases the animal's chance for survival."
"Deer are in a very critical condition during the winter and early spring months," explains Boyde Blackwell, regional wildlife manager for the UDWR.
"Deer, elk and most other wildlife are in a survival mode during the winter months," Blackwell said. "Deer survive on their fat and other reserves they built up over the summer because the dry, woody winter vegetation lacks nutrient values."
Winter weather conditions cause deer to use up their fat reserves. Cold weather causes the deer to burn reserves faster to generate body heat. Snow covers what little vegetation is available and also hinders deer movements, including running to escape dogs and other predators. Survival hangs in a balance; in other words it's summer reserves against winter conditions. Utah herds have been devastated during cold, snowy or long winters.
"Dogs, on the other hand, get fed on a regular basis and are provided protection against the worst cold and other winter weather conditions," Donaldson said. "Survival is not an issue; they chase deer by instinct, not survival. We see dogs of all sizes and shapes chasing after deer. Dogs can chase deer all day without endangering their own lives, but every time a deer has to run or hide, it uses up more of its precious fat reserves and reduces its chances for survival."
While domestic dogs instinctively pursue their prey, they have lost their ability or have never learned to kill cleanly. All too often wildlife officials see dogs eating an exhausted deer they have caught without killing it.
Besides the ecological reasons to keep dogs home, Donaldson mentioned legal ones. State and federal laws have been put in place to protect both wildlife and domestic animals from dogs.
"If someone sees a dog in the act of pursuing or killing livestock or wildlife, they should immediately call either the UDWR or a county sheriff's office," said Torrey Christophersen, UDWR regional law enforcement officer. "Statue 23-20-3 clearly states a person may not take or permit his dog to take protected wildlife or their parts."
Legally, "take" includes: pursue, harass, catch, capture or kill.