The first state-financed emergency deer feeding program in 17 years should begin by next week in parts of northern Minnesota.

“We will be ordering the feed this week and could have it by Saturday or Monday,” said Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

The group is managing the project under contract with the Department of Natural Resources. Volunteers, primarily using snowmobiles, will distribute the feed on lands open to the public where deer have congregated this winter.

“We would love to get some feed out this weekend, but my best guess is it will be the beginning of next week,” Johnson said.

The DNR has allocated $170,000 from its deer feeding/disease account to pay for the feeding. Fifty cents from each deer license is funneled into the account, which until now has been used to fight chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis in wild deer.

Though the winter has been severe in many areas, DNR officials don’t believe feeding wild deer will have a population-level impact and could increase risk of disease transmission and perhaps make deer more vulnerable to wolves. But because the Legislature established the account and hunters have been paying into it for years, officials feel they don’t have much choice but to allow the feeding, though DNR employees won’t be directly involved.

The $170,000 that will be spent is a fraction of the $750,000 spent in 1989 and $1.2 million spent in 1997 for deer feeding. Johnson figures it’s enough to buy just under 1 million pounds, estimating that amount will feed about 12,000 to 16,000 deer for six weeks.

“We’re not looking at feeding the deer every day,” Johnson said. “We’re looking at it as a supplement, not a complete ration.”

He said more than 100 people have volunteered to help.

Doug Smith