Dollars, deer down in third year of donation program

St. Paul – Hunters this year have donated fewer deer and less
money to the state’s venison donation program than they have during
the past two years.

Hunters have donated about $35,000 to the program; in each of
the past few years, voluntary donations have totalled about
$50,000.

“That’s not an insignificant amount,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR
big game program coordinator. “It’s better than a lot of states do
with voluntary donation programs.”

Just before Thanksgiving, 475 deer had been donated; last year,
hunters donated about 650 deer and in 2007 – the first year of the
program – they donated 2,000.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Dr. Nicole Neeser said
she expects the total number of donations will be down this year,
though it’s not clear by how much since the archery and
muzzleloader seasons are still under way.

The decline in donations from 2007 to 2008 likely can be
attributed to fewer processing facilities participating. The first
year of the donation program, 70 processors participated; last year
and this year, 33 did so. Why? Because while processors always have
been reimbursed $70 per deer, beginning last year they had to
attend training sessions as a result of the discovery of lead in
processed venison.

This year’s dip in donations likely can be explained by the fact
that about half of the permit areas in the state were lottery and
those who hunted them could take just one deer. About one-third of
permit areas were lottery during the previous two years.

“It makes sense that it would be down,” Cornicelli said. “About
90 percent of the deer that get donated come from areas where you
can kill more than one.”

All of the venison donated this year is being tested for lead.
Final test results likely will be available by the end of January,
Neeser said. Any venison found to have lead will be discarded, and
the rest will be distributed to food banks.

Compared to other states

In both Iowa and Wisconsin, hunters donate thousands of deer
each year to their respective donation programs. By the time the
third year of Minnesota’s program is complete, donation totals will
have been in the hundreds of deer two of the three years.

Both of the other states have more processors who participate,
Cornicelli said, and “we have more stringent requirements of our
processors.”

He believes that’s likely one of the reasons why more processors
don’t participate, but still hopes the program will prove
popular.

“I hope we get there,” he said.

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