A cold winter, and hard economy for deer herd in region

Today’s corn prices have resulted in less habitat and fewer, private food plots to see deer through the winter. Last autumn’s drought also meant more extensive tillage.

WATSON — A hard-crusted snow that held its ground through much of March made it difficult for deer and other wildlife, but complaints of deer depredation were not limited to areas with lots of snow.

Overall, this winter was moderate in terms of depredation issues, according to Curt Vacek, wildlife supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Watson.

Yet the area wildlife office in Marshall fielded 40 to 50 complaints of deer depredation, everything from deer eating hay in farm yards to munching on ornamental shrubs around houses.

Vacek said there were lots of theories tossed about as wildlife managers discussed the issue last week. Last autumn’s drought allowed more farm tillage work, meaning there was less stubble and left-overs for deer to forage during the winter.

But there is also a concern that we’re losing wildlife habitat as land is removed from conservation and returned to production due to strong prices for corn.

There’s also anecdotal evidence that fewer landowners are voluntarily planting food plots for wildlife due to the price of corn.

Farm land values have skyrocketed in response to the rising commodity prices, and that makes it much more difficult for the DNR and conservation organizations to acquire lands for wildlife too, noted Vacek.

The DNR is currently surveying about 8,000 landowners and deer hunters in Southwest Minnesota. The results will help in formulating deer population goals.

The widespread reports of hungry deer this year will have to be taken into account as well. The reports raise the question of whether our deer population is exceeding the carrying capacity of a landscape where habitat continues to disappear.

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