February 19, 2014
I'm Feeding Deer This Winter—Even If I Don't Want To
By Scott Bestul
I’ve been contributing to a deer-feeding slush fund for 16 years. I didn’t realize this, however, until yesterday, when I read a story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about a soon-to be initiated feeding program to help whitetails make it through the tail end of a good-old-fashioned tough winter. Apparently, 50 cents of every Minnesota deer license I’ve bought since 1997 has helped fund this program, which was instituted by the state legislature 16 years ago.
The DNR has agreed to implement the program, but grudgingly, saying they feel obliged to bend to the public desire to feed northern deer. I would venture to guess that they are also feeling pressure from the legislature to do so since the fund exists.
Meanwhile, however, our DNR, like virtually every other around the country, acknowledges that winter deer-feeding programs are not a good idea. Their main concern, naturally, is the increase potential for disease transmission. Gopher State game managers have already dealt with CWD and bovine tuberculosis in the whitetail herd, and eliminating feeding and baiting is standard procedure when those diseases are found.
DNR officials also estimate that this particular program will save very few deer. Two earlier programs in 1989 and 1996—both of which were much, much larger—helped only 11 percent and 20 percent of deer, respectively, in targeted zones. The budget for this year’s feeding effort will be about $170,000. The ’89 program cost $750,000, and the ’96 effort, 1.2 million.
I completely understand the desire to feed deer. It’s been a tough winter, and it’s not easy to see whitetails struggling through deep snow to find food and sleeping through sub-zero nights for months on end. But I’m also getting really tired of legislatures that muck around in deer management. And now I learn that my state leaders have made me contribute a chunk of change to a fund designed to “help” deer, but not in a way supported by wildlife managers. So yeah, my total contribution has only been eight dollars, but I still find it hard to swallow.