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Minnesota deer feeding effort all but over

Several deer gather to eat food placed by volunteers on the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation. The members of the band are continuing to feed deer this week to help them through the severe winter. (Trail camera photo Terry Perrault)

With snow depth diminishing across much of Northeastern Minnesota, the state’s first supplementary deer-feeding program in more than 15 years is all but over.

Nearly 1,000 volunteers have distributed 528 tons — more than a million pounds — of deer feed across the region to help beleaguered whitetails make it through the severe winter, said Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. The effort began March 6.

Saturday marked the final day of feeding at more than 1,000 feeding sites, Johnson said.

But feeding will continue through this week or longer on the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation, according to Mike Schrage, the band’s wildlife biologist. That’s because snow depth remains at more than 20 inches on the reservation, Schrage said.

The deer hunters’ association coordinated the deer feeding effort, buying the specially formulated feed and arranging for its distribution. A total of $260,000 was allocated for the feeding, of which MDHA has spent about $200,000, Johnson said. The money, generated by a 50-cent surcharge on deer hunting licenses, was transferred from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to the hunters’ association in a grant. The group has not yet been reimbursed in full by the DNR for the feeding program, Johnson said.

The DNR opposes supplementary deer feeding, saying it can cause disease transmission from close contact among deer, and also because it doesn’t reach enough deer to make a population-wide difference.

“People say it doesn’t have a landscape effect,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t, but it has a local effect.”

Johnson estimates that volunteers reached about 16,000 deer in the effort, each deer receiving an average of about 1½ pounds of food per day.

The Fond du Lac Band, including natural resources staff and volunteers, has been feeding at about 27 sites on the reservation, Schrage said.

“It’s been a lot of work,” he said. “Our staff has been going out three times a week to put out food.”

Access to feeding sites has grown more difficult, Schrage said.

“It’s to the point there’s not enough snow to run snowmobiles, but there’s too much for ATVs,” he said. “Things are flooding, and getting soft. It was easier when there was deep snow and everyone was driving snowmobiles.”

MDHA’s Johnson praised the efforts of those involved in the feeding.

“Number one, I’m just proud of our volunteers,” he said. “Without volunteers, there’s no way this would have happened. Number two, I’m proud of the (DNR) commissioner (Tom Landwehr) for allowing it to happen.”

Wisconsin did not have a supplementary deer feeding program despite a severe winter in the northern part of the state, said Greg Kessler, DNR wildlife biologist at Brule. The state has no money set aside for feeding, he said.