ST. GEORGE — Utah wildlife often struggles to find food during winters with heavy snow. By spring, many animals are vulnerable and weak. Because of this, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources asks those who are planning to take their dog hiking this spring and summer not to allow them to chase or harass any wildlife.
Dogs that are off-leash in nature may act on their instincts to chase deer and other big game animals they see. However, this can be harmful to the deer because they are usually in survival mode by the time the end of winter rolls around.
“If they get chased, it uses up their energy and they might not survive the winter,” KJ Pollock, the public affairs specialist for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, said. “These animals are often starving, and they can’t afford to waste energy from any actions that cause them to move away from where they are trying to feed.”
Deer and other big game animals typically move to lower elevations in search of food during the snowy winter months, which often brings them closer to roads and other populated urban areas where people and pets may be.
While there are many areas throughout the state where dogs are not required to stay on a leash, DWR asks that pet owners not let their dogs chase deer, elk, moose or other wild animals. It is not only harmful to wildlife but can be dangerous for pets as well.
“Wildlife is often unpredictable and may injure or kill a dog seen as threatening,” Covy Jones, DWR big game coordinator, said.
Dogs that are off-leash can also disturb nesting ground birds and can chase, injure or kill small mammals, deer, elk or moose.
Here are some tips and facts from Wild Aware Utah about keeping dogs safe around wildlife:
- It is against Utah law to allow dogs to chase or harass wildlife.
- Keep pet vaccinations up to date.
- Moose can be especially aggressive towards dogs.
- Always supervise pets when outdoors, particularly at dawn and dusk.
- Avoid going near den sites and thick vegetation.
- If a carcass is found, leave the area. It could be a kill that a cougar is guarding or will be returning to.
- Make noise while hiking.
Utah law states that a person may kill or injure a dog that is “attacking, chasing or worrying any species of hoofed protected wildlife,” which is just another reason to keep dogs on a leash.
“Pets allowed to run at large also are at risk from vehicles and predators,” Pollock said. “If you care about your pets, it’s in their best interest to keep them secured.”