Southeast legislator seeks funds for venison donation

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

St. Paul — The price of deer hunting licenses would increase by
$1 under a proposal by Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, and the
$450,000 it would raise annually would be used to offset the costs
of processing deer donated for charitable purposes.

The price increase would apply to parent resident and
nonresident licenses (not bonus permits), and be placed in a
special revenue account to cover the costs of running a donation
program.

Supporters say the program would help the DNR manage deer
populations because it would encourage people to shoot more than
one deer.

“It’s just a win-win situation for everybody,” said Jack Peck of
the Bluffland Whitetails Association. The DNR, through bonus
permits, is trying to reduce deer numbers in certain areas, but,
“It just doesn’t seem to be working. (Hunters) don’t want to shoot
deer and let them spoil.”

Peck, who works with a venison donation program called Farmers
and Hunters Feeding the Hungry in the southeast part of the state,
said the cost of getting venison processed – up to $75 per deer –
is the biggest hurdle to people donating it to charity.

He had funding last fall to process and donate 13 deer, but said
with adequate funding he had the opportunity to take more than 100
deer.

“I got calls literally every day wondering where they could
donate,” Peck said.

The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, through the Hunters
Against Hunger program, has been involved in venison donation for
about 19 years, said Mark Johnson, MDHA executive director.

MDHA doesn’t have an official position on the fee increase
Davids is proposing, but will be talking at a corporate board
meeting in March about a chapter resolution to increase license
fees by $.50 to pay for a venison donation program, Johnson
said.

“For sure what I’ve heard from our chapters is they want to
continue as chapters doing the Hunters Against Hunger program,” he
said. “The next question is whether it should be put on all deer
hunters of the state or not.”

Members of MDHA have discussed whether it’s appropriate for deer
hunters to pay for a social program, and whether increasing the fee
gives the appearance that deer hunters are to blame for a
burgeoning deer population.

“Hunters aren’t the problem, they are the answer,” Johnson
said.

Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game program coordinator, wasn’t sure
what the official DNR stance would be on a fee increase, but said
if a funding mechanism were put in place, DNR would work with the
state’s deer groups on a donation program.

“We can’t expect somebody to buy a deer permit for $14, kill a
deer, and then go pay someone $60 or $70 to process it,” he said.
“But if the system were set up were someone could go and drop off a
deer, that would encourage folks” to shoot an extra deer.

Cornicelli said he’s unsure what effect a state donation program
would have on the total deer population.

He called it another tool, rather than a silver bullet.

“Is it going to be the lynchpin of whether the deer population
increases or decreases? Probably not,” Cornicelli said.

Davids, for his part, said there’s already been talk about the
license increase in his bill, and that he’s open to exploring other
funding options. He cited the General Fund or automobile insurance
companies as two possibilities.

“It would be great for the sport,” he said. “Get some more deer
out of the woods and off the roads and give them to (charity).”

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