“Deer have evolved to survive our winters,’’ Telander said. “As a population, they don’t need to be fed.’’
Still, following the tough 1990s-era winters, the Legislature added the 50-cent surcharge to hunters’ licenses to pay for future deer feeding programs, if necessary.
“Even in the last 10 years, after the fund was broadened, the DNR hasn’t attempted to change the name of the account to eliminate ‘deer feeding,’ ’’ Johnson said. “And they’ve never said they wouldn’t feed deer if the situation arose. So we assume that’s what the account is for.’’
In establishing the account, the Legislature also directed the DNR and MDHA leaders to develop deer-feeding guidelines.
The resulting plan calls for the DNR’s Winter Severity Index (WSI) to trigger feeding initiatives. The index, which measures cold temperatures and snow depth to gauge a winter’s severity, must hit 100 points by mid-February for feeding to begin.
So far this winter, the WSI hasn’t reached 100 anywhere in Minnesota, Telander said.
“In northwest Minnesota, it’s in the low 50s,’’ he said. “In Roseau it’s in the mid-70s. It’s highest near International Falls, because of the deep snow they have. It’s probably in the 80-90 range there.’’
The state’s deer-feeding plan also directs the DNR to provide technical assistance, and to order and distribute feed to nonprofit sportsmen’s organizations such as MDHA chapters.
The chapters in turn would distribute the feed.
Johnson questions the accuracy of the DNR’s winter severity readings and says that in any event, deer are hurting.
“Look,’’ he said. “The possibility of disease transfer is the DNR’s best argument against deer feeding. But if they’re confident their negative testing for TB and CWD is accurate, that shouldn’t be an issue.
“Most deer up north don’t get old enough to get sick, anyway. Wolves kill them first.’’
Friday afternoon, Telander, DNR fish and wildlife division director Ed Boggess and Johnson held a conference call, after which the DNR officials said they would take the MDHA’s concerns to Landwehr and have a DNR determination on deer feeding by midweek.
Meanwhile, the wild card in the controversy has been played.
Northern Minnesota legislators, including powerful committee chairs and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, are aware of the fray, Johnson said, and likely will support deer feeding.
Dennis Anderson email@example.com