Wildlife managers across Northeastern Minnesota urge people not to feed deer this winter. Deer are adapted to survive Minnesota winters, say Department of Natural Resources wildlife officials, and feeding them could help spread disease or alter their normal winter movements.
DNR wildlife officials say they have begun to receive calls from residents who wonder if the agency plans to provide feed for deer. So far, this winter’s weather has been harsher than recent winters but has not hampered deer, wildlife officials say.
“Deer have evolved several strategies to help them survive Minnesota winters,” Jeff Lightfoot, DNR Northeast Region wildlife manager, said in a prepared statement.
Deer have insulating hollow hair that helps them retain body heat. In addition, their metabolism slows down during the winter, so they don’t need as much food as they do in summer. They live on browse (woody twigs) and body fat reserves, Lightfoot said.
“When people ask whether or not we’re going to provide feed, I say it’s very unlikely,” said Rich Staffon, DNR area wildlife manager at Cloquet. “The last time we went through that process, it was not cost effective to reach enough deer.”
Feeding deer can be harmful to the herd, Staffon said. Deer naturally seek wintering areas among conifers, where temperatures are milder and snow is not as deep, Staffon said. Feeding them can draw them away from those protective covers.
“If you’re going to feed deer, here’s the way to do it,” Staffon said. “Scatter it around in several different piles, so they aren’t fighting over it. Deer are so competitive over the food. And put it under good conifer cover so they don’t have to expose themselves to the cold to get at it.”
Concentrating deer at food sources can make it easier for them to spread diseases such as bovine tuberculosis, which has been found in deer in northwestern Minnesota.
“Our recommendation is that it’s best not to feed deer,” Staffon said. “It unnaturally concentrates them when they’re all feeding at the same pile of corn. A sick animal is much more apt to pass that to other animals.”
Staffon thinks most people understand that feeding deer in harsh winters is not, in the long run, a good practice.
“It’s hard not to do because it’s popular, and it’s hard to watch an animal starve to death,” he said. “But it’s probably the best thing. The ones that are designed to survive make it. Others don’t.”