Hundreds of volunteers in cars, trucks, and snowmobiles mobilized in northern Minnesota last week to feed the area’s struggling deer population. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced in February that $170,000 will be allocated to provide the state’s deer with food during an especially harsh winter, and now that translates to more than 88 tons of deer feed.

“If we feed about one pound of food per deer per week, we’re hoping to take care of about 20,000 deer for six weeks,’’ Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA) executive director Mark Johnson told the Star Tribune.

Johnson’s organization will be doing a lot of the heavy lifting as volunteers transport feed to eight drop-off sites for the deer. Not all of the volunteers are hunters, but all are eager to do their part. It is the first time in 17 years that the state had to open its emergency feeding program, which has been collecting 50 cents from every deer hunting license in that time. The account—which is also used to fund disease prevention—is estimated at $770,000. Johnson said that if the current amount of feed is not enough, the DNR can allocate more funds from the sum. Wildlife officials, however, are unsure whether the feeding will have a significant impact on the overall population.

“We’ve found a fair number of dead deer in the woods already,’’ said MDHA member Dan Guida. “If you can have a population impact, even in a small area, why wouldn’t you do it? Every bit of food on the ground will help them. If it wouldn’t help, we wouldn’t be doing it.’’

Hunters and conservationists assert that the program will benefit pregnant does and some of the healthier animals. Many of the older and weaker deer are not expected to make it through late winter, especially if the state sees more snow. Volunteers are gearing up for a busy few weeks. Once fed, the deer can grow dependent on the new food source.

“You can’t feed them and then stop because that does more harm than good.” MDHA member William Janke told NNCnow.com.

Janke will be ferrying feed from his hunting shack into the Widdes feeding area via snowmobile. The veteran hunter also participated in 1997’s emergency deer feeding.

“I want to do my part and help out,” he said.

In addition to the 88 tons of corn, oats, and soybean delivered on Thursday, volunteers are expecting the rest of a million pounds in state-sponsored deer feed over the next several weeks. DNR officials said they are concerned about disease spreading as the deer congregate in larger numbers. For the supporters of the program, however, conditions in northern Minnesota are bad enough to take the risk.

File image courtesy New York Department of Environmental Conservation

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