Skip to Content

Can You Feed Birds & Animals on Federal Land?

If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s okay to feed animals on federal land, you’re not alone. The laws surrounding animal and human interactions are complex.

Many animal lovers would jump at the chance to interact with a creature in the wild. But giving these critters food is risky. And on federal land, it’s a terrible idea.

So what’s the big deal with feeding wildlife, anyway?

Let’s check it out!

What Is Federal Land?

“Federal land” refers to land owned by the U.S. government. This includes several types of properties. The American government owns both surface and submerged properties. It also owns military bases and certain buildings.

This governing body owns more than 30% of the total surface area of the continental U.S. It also controls the underwater land attached to the Continental Shelf. Much of this property contains essential resources like water, oil, natural gas, timber, and more.

Although the federal government owns these areas, their management is handled primarily by four agencies. These include the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service. Finally, the Department of Defense manages military bases and training facilities.

So with all these agencies involved, who makes the rules regarding wildlife? The answer to that question is complicated.

Who Manages Wildlife on Federal Land? 

State governments generally have more control over resources within their borders. But they have limited power when it comes to resources on federal lands.

While most countries manage wildlife at the national level, the U.S. gives that power to the states. They’re empowered to police nature the same way they police the public.

The federal government’s power is limited by design. But that doesn’t mean states have total control over all lands inside their borders.

The Constitution grants authority over federal lands to the national government. This means the agencies have total control over resources on those lands, including wildlife. Thanks to the supremacy clause, they can also supersede state control in other settings. Federal law wins in disputes.

Pro Tip: Get the inside scoop on all of The Many Different Types of Public Land.

Feeding squirrel
Don’t feed the wildlife while on federal land.

Can You Feed Wild Animals on Federal Land?

Though it may be tempting, feeding wild animals on federal land is illegal. Doing so can harm them, and it may even get you arrested.

Just about every city or municipality makes rules for providing food for wildlife. Some cities even have ordinances regulating backyard bird and squirrel feeders. Depending on where you live, it may also carry a fine. These laws vary from area to area.

However, it’s never legal to do on federal land. Breaking this rule comes with severe penalties. According to the National Park Service’s website, “the maximum penalty for feeding park wildlife is a $5,000 fine and up to one year in jail.”

Law enforcement takes these crimes seriously. You may be punished even if you’re injured in the process. In 2012, a Florida man lost his hand while attempting to offer an alligator a snack and still received a charge.

What Happens When You Feed Wild Animals? 

Feeding wildlife can seem harmless. Most folks don’t think twice about it. But this small act carries many serious consequences. And those consequences affect everyone.

Most people who feed wild animals give them human food. This is a problem for two reasons: it’s terrible for them, and they don’t need help finding meals. Anything outside their natural diet may cause serious health issues or even death.

It can also create other kinds of health issues. When animals know they’ll find something to eat, they gather in these areas. This can increase the odds of disease transmission between wildlife and humans alike.

One of the most dangerous side effects is familiarity with humans. Critters that regularly receive food from humans become less afraid of them. This causes some to become aggressive toward people. Unfortunately, these creatures are frequently killed to protect the public.

Feeding birds in the wild
Feeding wildlife may seem harmless, but can have major impacts.

Can You Feed Wild Birds on Federal Land?

Feeding birds in your backyard is a different matter. But birdhouses still pose risks.

Before buying a backyard feeder, research your local ordinances and bird species. If your local species aren’t endangered, and they can tolerate the food and environment you offer, it’s probably safe.

However, never feed wild birds on federal land. Doing so can cause many of the same problems caused it does with other animals. Aside from dietary concerns, large gatherings of waterfowl like geese and ducks can cause water pollution. And if they forage near airports and populated areas, they may crash into aircraft and die.

Do People Actually Get in Trouble If They Feed Wild Animals on Federal Land? 

The federal government takes these issues because of the human impact on nature. In the late 19th century, overhunting and overfishing threatened many game species with extinction. Congress passed the Lacey Act in response. The Lacey Act strengthened existing state laws and made interstate wildlife trading illegal.

Feeding animals inside national parks can result in fines of up to $5,000 and jail time. But with sealife, it carries an even higher price tag. Anyone who breaks the Marine Mammal Protection act may face penalties as high as $11,000. The government can even seize your boat or water vessel!

We’ve seen countless stories of people violating these laws and facing punishment. It’s an offense that’s taken very seriously.

Pro Tip: Add these Best National Forests to Visit this Summer to your bucket list to search for wildlife.

Don’t Feed Birds or Animals on Federal Land

National parks and other protected lands are some of America’s most beautiful places. The ability to see wild animals and birds in their habitats is a true gift. It only exists thanks to the delicate balance of natural ecosystems.

Never feed the wildlife when visiting national parks or other federal lands. What may feel like an act of kindness to humans could end up hurting or killing them. Plus, the fines, charges, and jail time accompanying these violations aren’t worth it.

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers who love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: