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Is there a need to feed?

January 14, 2011
By Tim Kobasic

ESCANABA - In the summer of 2002 a composite group of conservationists met in East Tawas and were able to gain a one year reprieve from the Natural Resources Commission (NRC), on the banning of winter feeding of deer.

In 2003 the ban went into effect.

A few years later, with the urging from UP Michigan Natural Resources Commissioners John Madigan and JR Richardson, the NRC issued an amendment that allowed winter feeding of deer to resume in the high snowfall zone of the northern UP, segregating the south where the ban remained in effect. The logic provided was that there was clear evidence of base populations of deer being at risk from starvation in the north for deer that had not migrated to lower terrain and temperature.

Beginning in late 2008 and continuing through the winter of 2010, members of the UP Sportsmen's Alliance (UPSA) and UP Whitetails Association (UPW) worked with wildlife MDNR biologists Bob Doepker, Terry Minzey and Craig Albright to create a formula that would address whether or not the need to again provide winter feed to at least parts of the southern UP exists. In prior years, the practice was endorsed by the MDNR, but only on a limited scale.

Prior to 1996, the MDNR would go to some of the active deer yards and cut small amounts of cedar to augment other woody browse on which deer were feeding. UP Whitetails - then a relatively newer conservation organization - would monitor cutting sites. Specifically toward the end of winter they would observe what resident deer looked like as far as physical condition and available browse. If the Winter Severity Index (WSI) had a level near 80, feeding was permitted in areas found to have a high concentration of deer that were essentially snow bound from reaching other food sources. Tops of brush left by loggers usually carried enough browse for the pocket herds except for those areas where the jobber completed the cut earlier than expected and pulled out prior to breakup.

It was from the previous formula and area indicator that the UPSA-MDNR-UPW group came up with a plan that would simplify the trigger as to whether or not winter feeding should take place.

Fact Box

Tim Kobasic is 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 Saturday mornings.

During the years when the WSI was used, Doepker, Minzey and Albright were tracking how cumulative snowfall paralleled the markers that indicated when deer were at stressed levels. An average of total snowfall between two select points and by a certain date, could be used as the trigger.

During the Aug. 12, 2010 meeting of the Natural Resources Commission that was held in Escanaba, it was planned to formally announce that the new formula would be adopted and winter feeding could begin during the winter of 2010-11 if the trigger was pulled. Unfortunately, the big focus at the meeting settled on the issue of feral swine instead, and debate occupied most of the day.

As the auditorium quieted and some in the gallery began to leave, the NRC continued to conduct business according to the planned agenda. At approximately 8 p.m., commissioner Madigan moved, and with support from commissioner Richardson, Supplemental Feeding of Deer - Wildlife Conservation Order Amendment 14 of 2010, was unanimously and unceremoniously passed.

In the case of the western UP - for the counties out of the high snow zone - if the total snowfall average between Crystal Falls and Escanaba reaches 48 inches by the first Monday following Jan. 15, winter feeding can begin.

According to Bob Doepker, the total to date is approximately 23-percent behind last year's total. If it holds, that means no feeding in the specified areas should need to take place.

Although it may seem like bad news, it could also be a good thing, as the deer should have enough fat stores to make it through the rest of the winter. That's provided it doesn't drastically change for the worse or extend beyond the normal time.

If it does reach the trigger level, those who decide to begin a feeding program should know that what they are putting out could be a detriment if not used in quantities or qualities necessary for deer to properly utilize.

Shelled corn is a favored grain for baiting and feeding. However, deer that haven't been consuming corn and suddenly have it placed before them could be at risk, as corn is high in starch. Deer like grains - such as corn - so much that they may over eat, which can lead to fatalities. According to a report (Number 3244 of Feb. 1996) compiled by Ed Langenau, formerly of the MDNR Wildlife Division, "When introduced abruptly, the starch produces bacteria that can cause bloating and severe diarrhea. Excess build up of acid can produce lesions, which become infected with bacteria, like clostridium (a genus of Gram positive bacteria), and can cause death from rumenitis."

The report goes on to state that those who choose to use hay for feed need to know that only second-cut alfalfa, will benefit deer.

Mineral blocks are useful in the spring but do not usually contain the energy (nutrition) necessary for winter sustenance.

The full report is currently out of print but can be obtained through the MDNR website at Once there, open the "Wildlife & Habitat" tab on the left side, and scroll down to the center "Related Resources / Wildlife Division Library" tab. Open the file starting with report 3200 and scroll down to 3244, open and print.

The report will not only provide coaching on how and what to use as feed, it will also detail the history behind the winter feeding of deer and will perhaps help you determine whether or not you want, or even need to get involved.



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