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Deer feeding to be discussed at Esky meeting

September 11, 2009
By Tim Kobasic

ESCANABA - The UP Sportsmen's Alliance will meet Sept. 19 in Escanaba. One of the key topics will be a formula that, if adopted by the Michigan Natural Resources Commission, will provide essential guidelines across the UP for those concerned about the health of whitetail deer during the strenuous winter months.

It will bring a science to the practice and better educate the public of not only when and where they should provide nutrition to deer, it will also indicate why and why not.

Years ago the Michigan DNR had a program where personnel would go to areas of high stress and cut northern white cedar for the deer, just so they could make it through the winter.

Approximately 20 years ago, UP Whitetails Association was in the process of conducting a series of migration studies on the deer which proved to be very important toward herd management.

During that same time, volunteer workers discovered the reality that takes place in the winter.

Many of the locations chosen to perform the study were within winter timber cut yards. Here deer were gathering to be sheltered from the cold and to feed upon the tops of trees left after harvest.

In many cases, there was enough supply of browse to carry the deer through to spring break-up. In other cases there was not and required immediate intervention or many of the whitetails stuck within the complex faced starvation.

The lack of food in some winter cut sites was due to the jobber finishing the tree harvest contract before the end of winter.

Once he pulled out, deer were left with very little reserve food sources and in some cases began chewing bark off 3" poplar and consuming pine needles and sticks, only to later die with bellies full on non-nutritional product.

Former wildlife technician Frank Short had trained the volunteers and also reported problem areas to the conservation organization.

On his recommendation, UP Whitetails delivered and properly distributed some of its supply of second crop alfalfa, from a perpetual reserve, to various sites.

It was from this process that a formula was developed and is again being proposed for use.

Today, winter feeding of wildlife (whitetail deer) is permitted in the northern deep snowfall region of the UP. Except for dates, there are no indicators as to when, where or how much. The idea is to help keep a huntable base population of deer.

It may be inappropriate for some feeding programs as the area being serviced may very well not have the four key components to hold deer: food, water, space and shelter.

The UPSA is proposing the following plan for use, setting criteria for "emergency" feeding programs:

To evaluate the weather conditions in relation to the effect on the survival potential for whitetail deer in the Upper Peninsula, a minimum of one Winter Severity Index station will be established in each Deer Management Unit. Some DMU's may require more than one.

l Cost and construction of the stations shall be covered by conservation volunteers and organizations.

l Once the WSI reaches 50, volunteers will be utilized within a respective DMU to monitor deer health, habitat conditions and herd size.

l If and when the WSI reaches 70 or greater, MDNR personnel will be utilized to verify the presence of seasonal stressors and sanction feeding based on the WSI 70 trigger.

l Food product shall be provided and distributed by volunteers under the guidance of the MDNR.

l Feed materials will include but not be limited to grains, such as corn, oats, barley, (all) placed in a manner devised to limit competition and gathering in (immediate) close proximity of large numbers of deer.

l Second crop hay materials including alfalfa and clovers in baled form may be utilized, along with baled sorghums and corn plants as long as all materials used for feed originated (were grown and harvested) in the UP.

l Foods such as processed or concentrated pellets may be utilized on after confirmation of contents, point of origin and manufacturer are confirmed and are compliant with Michigan statutes.

l Once initiated, the (site specific) emergency feeding shall continue through spring break-up, enabling deer to disperse and find the presence of enough natural food.

(Some of the bullet points of the program summarized here have been edited for brevity.)

Once voted on by the delegates of UPSA, and assuming passage, the leadership of UPSA will present the entire package to the NRC during their October meeting that is slated for Ontonagon.

If you are a member of an affiliate organization of the UPSA, you are urged to contact the officers of your club and urge their support.

I believe the UPSA is providing a sound science approach to the issue. In many areas, we remain worried about maintaining a base population of deer.

While there is currently no evidence of disease among the UP whitetail deer population, those left weakened and malnourished due to severe winter conditions may very well become ill and die without the support.


Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.



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