Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Hunters maintain support of venison donation program

St. Paul – Despite a faltering economy and concern about lead in
venison, hunters gave nearly as much money to the state’s venison
donation program last year as they did in 2007.

Given the choice to donate $1, $3, or $5 when they bought their
deer licenses, hunters donated $50,158 in 2008. That’s $90 less
than they donated in 2007, the first year of the state program.

“The people who are donating are still committed to donating,”
said Lou Cornicelli, DNR big-game program coordinator.

The number of deer donated, though, was down sharply. After
first-year donations of nearly 2,000 deer, last year’s total likely
will be in the range of 700. (The Department of Agriculture still
is tallying the donations.)

Part of the reason likely is the number of venison processors
who participated in 2008 was about half of what it was the previous
year, and the locations of those processors who did participate
weren’t as widely distributed as they were in 2007.

While the payment of $70 per processed deer remained the same,
the processors were subject to new regulations and training
sessions as the state attempted to ensure there wasn’t lead in the
venison donated to food shelves.

Some may not have wanted to take the chance of lead being found
in venison they processed, said Dr. Nicole Neeser, program manager
of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Dairy and Food
Inspection Division.

“It’s a risk to them,” she said. “If we are doing testing and we
come up with lead and it’s linked to their business, that’s poor
publicity for them.”

Another reason for the drop could be related to the number of
managed and intensive deer permit areas. More than 90 percent of
the donated deer in 2007 were taken in managed or intensive areas,
of which there were fewer last year.

“We didn’t see very many deer donated from lottery areas,”
Cornicelli said.

Future could be in doubt

When the donation program was created and the Legislature funded
it in 2007, it was pitched as a means to help the hungry and aid
wildlife managers in controlling the state’s deer population.

It’s been in turmoil since tests last year revealed lead in some
of the venison hunters donated. Whether the program exists this
fall remains to be seen.

“We are hoping there is going to be a donation program, but it
hasn’t been fully determined yet,” Cornicelli said.

The donation program – in its current form, at least – won’t be
around this fall if Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, has his way. He
introduced a bill this week – HF 1075 – that “repeals the venison
donation program that was put in place a couple of years ago,” he
said.

His bill would eliminate the $5 surcharge on nonresident deer
licenses. Hunters still could donate $1, $3, or $5, and a $1
surcharge on bonus permits would remain in place, but instead of
that money going to reimburse processors, it would be used for deer
management.

The bill also changes the definition of food so that it doesn’t
“mean hunter-harvested venison that a person donates for charitable
purposes …”

Hackbarth wants the venison donation program to be like it was
before 2007.

“We have to get back on track with this donation program,” he
said. “… Get it back to being a voluntary program so we can get
some of this venison back on the food shelves.”

Funding the program

When the Legislature created the donation program in 2007, it
gave it $160,000 in seed money from the state General Fund. At the
same time, it increased the cost of nonresident deer licenses by
$5, with that money going to the program. That fee brought in more
than $116,000.

Last year, there was no General Fund support, but the price of
bonus tags went up by $1, with those funds also going to the
program. That raised nearly $200,000, and the revenue from
nonresident license sales was up to nearly $125,000.

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