It's been a tough winter on man and beast alike, and local conservation groups that hoped the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources would help deer make it through are disappointed the agency won't.
"This has been one of our more severe winters that we've had in several years," Wayne Johnson, of the Minnesota Deer Hunter's Association, told Fox 9 News.
The state's white tail deer are having a difficult time making their way through the deep snow and frigid cold, but the DNR says it won't pay for emergency winter feeding even though the Winter Severity Index shows the population is strained.
The WSI is a scoring system that adds a point for each day the mercury is below zero and another point for each day that more than 15 inches of snow is on the ground. At the end of the winter season, anything less than 100 is considered mild, but anything over 180 is severe. Maps show some areas are getting close to the severe title, but the DNR says it's still going to watch and wait for now.
Johnson, however, remains concerned because not only are the deer dealing with large amounts of snow amid an arctic blast, it's also the second year in a row that winter has been hard on the species.
"I guess that I'm disappointed in the decision not to release to those funds," Johnson admitted. "They're there. They're available for use."
Even so, the DNR says it currently has no plans to release money to pay for emergency feedings. In a statement, the agency said it "doesn't support deer feeding because science shows it doesn't show a significant positive effect on the overall 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," he explained.
Yet, the DNR also contends that deer feeding can increase the potential to spread diseases since deer are likely to congregate while feeding. One again, however, Johnson sees things differently.
"Our contention is: These deer are already in close proximity. They're in the winter feeding yards. They're bunched up and they have basically, in these kinds of conditions, depleted all their available grounds," he said. "They don't have the available food supply they should have."
A total of 50 cents from each deer license sold is put in a special fund for emergency feeding and disease testing, but the last time the DNR approved winter feeding was 1998 after two exceptionally difficult years that reduced the deer population. With the agency seeming reluctant to do so again, hunting advocates plan to appeal the decision.
"It's not replacing other things they're eating," Johnson argues. "It's just supplementing the diet with some high-energy nutrition that will help them get through the rest of the winter."