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DNR supports extension of deer feeding

Now in its fifth week of emergency deer feeding in Northeastern Minnesota, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association already has spent $118,000 of its allotted $170,000 on deer feed, the group said this past week.

Anticipating that feeding could be required well into April, MDHA executive director Mark Johnson said the group might need another $100,000 to buy more feed.

This past week, state Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, asked the DNR to make another $100,000 available out of a special account for deer disease and feeding programs. The account is stocked with a 50-cent surcharge on deer hunting licenses.

The DNR says it’s prepared to allocate additional money if needed. When the DNR authorized the emergency feeding effort, it required the MDHA to continue feeding until the spring thaw.

About $600,000 remains in the emergency fund, a level the DNR did not want to fall below in case future deer health problems emerge. But Ed Boggess, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director, said the DNR has committed to spending more money if necessary until snow on the ground subsides.

“We’ve been working with the Deer Hunters (Association), and we think they have enough to get through about April 18 with the sites they have active now. But if it takes more than that, we aren’t committed to any dollar amount, but we are committed to seeing this through,” Boggess said. “They won’t be adding any new sites for feeding. But at sites where the deer are already coming in, we don’t want to cut them off until the snow melts and they can move around better.”

MDHA officials said that about 1,000 volunteers had distributed about 440 tons of feed through Saturday  at about 800 sites across Northeastern Minnesota. This is the first such emergency feeding program since 1997, with deer food being delivered to eight drop-off sites near Cook, Moose Lake, Hibbing, International Falls, Virginia, Esko, Grand Rapids and McGregor-Wright.

The combination of very deep snow and extremely low temperatures made it a tough winter for deer. Winter Severity Index readings tracked by the DNR indicate a severe winter across nearly all of Northeastern Minnesota.

In severe winters, studies have shown that approximately 20 to 30 percent of adult deer die, said Chris Balzer, DNR area wildlife manager in Cloquet.

“And it’s higher than that for fawns,” Balzer said. “As high as the WSI is right now, we expect losses to be similar to the winter of 1995-96.”

But during the severe winter of 1996-97, fewer deer died, Balzer said, perhaps because many of the weaker ones had succumbed the previous winter.