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DNR frowns on feeding wildlife in winter; warns motorists

A farmer near Henning was looking out a window of his home one night during a full moon recently and realized one of his fields was "crawling." He knew what the four-legged invaders were and before he was done he had counted 24 of them.

Whitetail deer and wild turkey are pretty bold this winter as the snow amounts increase. Both can be a problem for livestock growers.

DNR wildlife manager Rob Naplin of Park Rapids has been monitoring snow depths. Snow in the forested country around Park Rapids is around one foot. The snow depth in the Wadena area has been near eight inches. Naplin considers both levels to be indicative of a normal Minnesota winter. The one-foot of snow in the Park Rapids area is "fluffy" which Naplin said is good for ruffed grouse.

Upland birds like pheasants have trouble finding food and cover in heavy snow conditions but turkeys are long-legged and able to withstand a great deal of cold. As long as turkeys can dig down and find a food source they can survive a Minnesota winter.

Deer build up fat reserves in the fall and their bodies go into a "winter mode" during the coldest months which help them adapt to a scarcity of food.

For all of the reasons to avoid feeding wildlife, Naplin acknowledges that many people still feed them in the winter. He understands that it is fun to see them coming to a feeder but what Naplin pointed out is that those "guests" are not blessed with good manners. They are not going to graciously "leave the table" and they might decide to bring friends. It can become expensive.

"What they don't realize is that once they start (feeding) they have to continue," Naplin said. "We don't recommend people do it."

Naplin's concern about winter snowfall is that it can be mixed with rain. A freezing rain can build up a hard crust can build up on the top of the snow. Not only does this make finding food tough, it can also cause travel problems for deer who cannot navigate as well in deep snow to avoid pursuers. Dog packs become a problem under these conditions.

Rather than worry about how wildlife is coping with winter, Naplin wants people to keep a sharp eye out when they are driving. Deer will cross a roadway for food and can give motorists little or no warning when they suddenly bolt across a road.

Pheasants are also known to feed on roadsides.