Emergency Deer Feeding in Northern Minnesota

It’s no big secret to the residents of the Midwest that this winter has been anything but mild. Record breaking low temperatures, mass accumulations of snow, and bitter cold wind chills have created detrimental conditions for much of the region’s wildlife. One species of major concern is the white-tailed deer. The growing concern for the deer’s survival this winter has become so severe that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR) has recently granted an emergency deer feeding initiative for the first time since the late ‘90s. This effort has primarily been the result of a push for the initiative by the Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association (MDHA). I recently had the pleasure of talking to Mark Johnson, Executive Director of MDHA, about the feeding operation that will soon take place and the following summarizes the information from that interview.

In Mid-February the MNDNR reversed its previous decision to deny deer feeding this winter to allow the emergency deer feeding initiative. This decision was the result of multiple meetings between members of the MNDNR and MDHA. The feeding initiative is not statewide, but focuses on a portion of NE Minnesota where winters tend to be the most stressful on the deer population (see map).

The MNDNR has granted the MDHA the lead-role in running the initiative and a $170,000 budget was allotted to cover the costs of purchasing and distributing the feed to the deer. The funds come from a DNR account that has been funded by a small percentage of whitetail deer hunter’s license fees each year over the past decade and a half. The account’s primary purpose is to supply funds to help maintain the deer herd’s health and well-being.

Although an emergency deer feeding initiative sounds like a “knight in shining armor” rescue for the deer, it doesn’t come without its concerns. Over the past several years deer feeding has become a controversial issue and has actually been banned in many areas. The main concerns that arise when deer are fed “non-naturally” are the concentration of deer and the ultimate spread of diseases like chronic wasting disease (CWD) and bovine tuberculosis. Mark Johnson explained to me that these concerns are relatively minor in the Northeastern region of Minnesota because there is no record or evidence of CWD or bovine tuberculosis and the deer already tend to concentrate naturally in deer wintering areas. It is not possible to spread diseases through feeding if the diseases do not exist in that area. This was a major factor considered by the MNDNR when overturning their decision to allow the feeding.

In order to cover such a large region effectively the MDHA has turned not only to their staff and organization but to local volunteers to help feed the deer. They have currently enlisted the help of over 135 volunteers and more are added each day. Without volunteers a feeding effort of this proportion would not be possible. Through the help of volunteers, foresters, DNR officials and many others, the MDHA has located many areas where deer are currently concentrated. These wintering areas will be the primary targets for feeding the deer. Feed will be distributed across the region and volunteers will work to bring the feed directly to the deer primarily by snowmobile. The feed that is used is a pelleted mix of slower degrading starches. The mix is high in protein, fat and fiber and actually contains little to no corn due to the fact that corn can cause digestive problems in deer and cause them to bloat and possibly die. Although the feeding initiative is not currently underway Mark said he hopes the process begins as early as the first week in March. The sooner they can provide relief to the deer the better. The feeding initiative will proceed through the winter or until funding runs out. Although the MDHA has not publically announced a request for financial support from the public, donations can be made. If you have any interests in donating to the cause or volunteering your time to help feed the deer please see the additional information below. A link to the MDHA’s “2014 Emergency Winter Deer Feeding Initiative” blog is also included below and it provides the most up-to-date information on the initiative. I would like to personally thank Mark Johnson for his time regarding information on the feeding efforts and also thank all volunteers that are out there trying to help keep the deer herd strong and stable. Stay warm and stay safe!

Written by Michael Carlson

For all the latest news on the deer feeding initiative please visit the MDHA Blog:http://mndeerhunters.com/en/category/2014-Emergency-Winter-Deer-Feeding-Initiative/

With questions, or to volunteer to help in your area, email Jenny at jenny@mndeerhunters.com

If you would like to donate towards the feeding effort please contact the MDHA.

UPDATE: Feeding has now stopped for the winter.

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