Brainerd – In late August 2017, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources widened the ban in parts of the state on recreational deer feeding. The reason? Some captive deer (those in an enclosure) had verified cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Crow Wing County north of Brainerd and in Meeker County near Litchfield.
That prompted a feeding ban in multiple counties and areas through February 2019. They are Crow Wing, Aitkin, Morrison, Stearns, Kandiyohi, Wright, Meeker, McLeod, as well as portions of Renville, Cass and Mille Lacs. (A state map of the closed areas is online at bit.ly/feedban.)
My unscientific observation is that many Minnesotans continue to illegally feed deer anyway.
In the past three months I’ve monitored deer feeding posts on Facebook and other sources. Pictures of deer at backyard feeders are common. Either those people don’t care about the ban or don’t know about it. Those who continue to feed deer have likely done it for years, and they don’t believe theirs are in harm’s way.
Recreational feeding is different from baiting. Baiters attract deer to a food pile (corn, grain, apples, etc.) for the purpose of hunting them. It’s illegal in Minnesota. Recreation feeding is legal, except in the aforementioned counties, and in additional counties in extreme southeastern Minnesota.
Why the ban? The gathering of deer over a confined food source puts the animals in nearby contact. Biologists believe that may lead to the exchange of bodily fluids, such as saliva. Urine and feces also may be issues. The state thinks that close contact is the main contributor to the spread of CWD. Experts generally agree CWD doesn’t affect humans, but it is lethal to deer, elk and moose.
“I’ve had a few [feeding] complaints I’m working on right now,” said Jim Guida, a DNR conservation officer whose area includes central Minnesota. “Most of the grievances have come from neighbors who are following the rules, resentful of those who are not. I’m also following up on a few [Turn in Poachers] reports.”
It’s my guess that a large percentage of the people who are not complying with the ban are those who enjoy watching deer through a backyard window. Oftentimes those deer become habituated to humans.
“A big percentage of our recreation deer feeding complaints originate from people living on the edge of town where deer feel safe visiting supplemental feeding.
“It’s relatively easy to determine artificial deer feeding violations,” Guida added. “Heavy deer trails cross roads and usually converge at a feeding station in someone’s backyard.”
Guida said the concentration of deer also can increase the possibility of collisions with motor vehicles.
Deer that gather near supplemental food destroy natural foods by over-browsing native vegetation.
Some feeding takes place after the firearms deer hunting season. That often disrupts deer movement, leaving late season muzzleloader and archery hunters scratching their heads.
So, what if deer gather each night to feed on grain placed for birds or other animals? The DNR suggests you position bird feeders at least 6 feet above the ground.
Watching deer and other wildlife in our backyards is fun. Some wildlife observers I know are really upset by the new rules.
Ultimately, we don’t know if the CWD will spread throughout our coveted deer herd.
Let’s take precautions and hope it doesn’t.
Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.