Deep snow and bitter cold are making this a tough winter for northern Minnesota's deer herd. The Department of Natural Resources has decided against feeding wild deer, though – leading to disappointment among hunters.
The leader of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association tells FOX 9 it's the second straight winter that's stifling the deer population. "It's all about keeping that small population of deer in a target area alive and producing fawns so we raise the number of deer in that area," Mark Johnson tells the station.
But as the Star Tribune reports, the DNR says feeding deer is not very effective and can lead to the spread of diseases such as bovine tuberculosis or chronic wasting disease as animals congregate at feeders.
Minnesota also had back-t0-back winters when deer mortality was high during the 1990s. The Star Tribune says estimates had the deer herd shrinking by 30 percent in 1995-96 and by another 8 percent the following winter. The newspaper recounts that the DNR opposed feeding at that time, but was ultimately ordered to do so by the Legislature.
The agency uses a system known as the Winter Severity Index to measure the toll the season is taking on deer. A DNR official tells outdoors writer Sam Cook the index is running above its average mid-season level for much of northern Minnesota, but is not at the level of those harsh years during the '90s.
You can check the county-by-county map of the winter severity index here.
Separately, KARE 11 reports the DNR plans two public hearings in southeastern Minnesota this month to talk about how to manage the deer population in that region. The DNR's index shows this winter is not a particularly harsh one for deer in the southeast.