DNR says no to state emergency deer feeding

ST. PAUL (AP) — Minnesota deer will suffer and die because of the harsh winter, but Department of Natural Resources officials said Tuesday the state should not interfere with nature’s course by feeding them.
“Deer feeding is not a tool that can significantly reduce deer mortality in a winter like this,” state Chief of Wildlife Tim Bremicker said. “A lot of deer are going to die anyway despite what we do.”
The recommendation came as the department released a preliminary report on last year’s deer feeding program, which the DNR also opposed. The report said it cost $1.2 million and used 8,400 hours of staff time, but more than a quarter of the targeted deer still died.
Senate Environment and Agriculture Budget Division Committee chairman Steven Morse, DFL-Dakota, said if emergency deer feeding is done this year, it should be done by volunteers, not the state.
And he said any bills considered by the Legislature should take the recent study into account.
One bill would place a $2.50 surcharge on 1997 deer hunting licenses and appropriate $1.5 million for the feeding program. Another would authorize the DNR to accept contributions for feeding. Those who contributed at least $50 would receive a free 1997 deer-hunting license.
Bremicker said regardless of what is done this winter, deer will still be there for hunting next fall.
“Deer have been evolving and adapting to winter for years,” he said.
John Schladweiler, state wildlife field supervisor in New Ulm, said deer in the southwestern part of the state are doing well.
“The deer are hungry, but they certainly aren’t starving by any means,” he said. “Snow is very hard-packed and the drifts are hard, so the deer have real good mobility. Whatever looks like food to them, they’re getting their noses into.”
Last year, an estimated 105,000 of the 396,000 deer in the feeding area died because the food did not reach enough of them and wasn’t enough to make a difference for many of the deer it did reach.
It would have cost $2.3 million to reach all the deer with enough food last year, the report said.
Other drawbacks include unnaturally concentrating deer in feed areas, which makes them susceptible to predators. State emergency deer feeding is unique to Minnesota. Some other states feed deer to prevent winter deaths, but those programs are privately funded, the report said.