Volunteers sought for Manitoulin Island Deer Save winter program

MANITOULIN—‘Deer Save’ is a local initiative introduced in 2010 to help save Manitoulin deer populations during years of severe winter snow conditions. It was co-led by Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council (MASC), OFAH, local First Nations, Manitoulin and North Shore area Fish and Game Clubs, community volunteer members, cooperating landowners and works with the approval of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), Sudbury District office. 

In 2014 MASC amalgamated with the Manitoulin Streams Improvement Association and the future Deer Save program will now be coordinated under the Manitoulin Streams name.

In 2008 MASC, through a socio-economic study, was able to formally value the deer hunt as a valuable economic resource on Manitoulin. The peer reviewed study focused on the economic stimulus of the hunt. It concluded that the deer hunt alone brings in approximately $16,000,000 per year, based on out of pocket expenditures alone, to the Manitoulin economy. Furthermore, out of 670,000 acres on the Island, almost half is privately owned specifically for deer hunting, not to mention the over 50,000 of additional acres which are leased out for the deer hunt. This had prompted the creation of the Deer Save initiative in 2010 and has been a growing program ever since.

For the most part, recent winters have remained mild. However, four years ago Deer Save efforts averted disaster for local deer populations as a result of efforts coordinated by MASC, with the permission of landowners within core deer wintering areas and the assistance of nearly 250 volunteers. MASC also contracted a bulldozer to open an existing 500 plus kilometers of existing snow bound trails which landowners had granted MASC usage of prior permission to access. Deer would then use these newly opened trails to avoid deep snow and to access natural food. Prior to the emergency clearing of trails, most deer were severely stressed by their struggle to move in deep snow and bitter cold weather and many were dying due to these harsh winter conditions. Thanks to many landowners, volunteers and contributors, Deer Save had managed to make a positive impact on the survival of the deer herd, averting further loss.  

“Healthy populations of the deer herd now continue to thrive, however, we may again be faced with another harsh winter for 2016/2017,” says Susanne Meert, Deer Save coordinator. “If we do not take proactive measures now and prepare to help sustain this valuable deer resource, we could stand to lose much more than the economic impact of a diminished deer herd. The facts are simple, to sustain the deer hunt, we need to help sustain the deer herd.”

Ms. Meert urges landowners to register their property if it lies within core deer wintering yard areas. “If you own acreage in the noted winter yard areas, please register with us to allow entry of our volunteers to carry out Deer Save efforts such as clearing snow off of existing trails and roadways and browse cutting. All Deer Save activities are covered under MASC’s OFAH liability insurance program.

“Whether you own property or just want to help, we need volunteers to assist in breaking trails and feeding when deemed required under emergency protocol,” Ms. Meert continues. “If you are able to help, contact our office for further details.

What not to do: improper feeding of grain or hay to deer when not deemed necessary for emergency efforts can cause death of deer; do not cut down full trees, this takes away future cover and food sources. Browse is typically supplied to deer along our cleared trails by pruning cedar branches and letting these fall to the ground where deer can access them. This is a natural food item for deer and can help to sustain them through a harsh winter. Cedar browse can be supplied to a deer year round without emergency protocol, as it’s their natural food; and do not conduct winter activities or let dogs run loose near the deer yards to chase deer, this consumes much of the deer’s energy.

“Any donations of funds, equipment or in-kind support would be much appreciated,” Ms. Meert says. “Funds are placed into a trust fund which is specifically dedicated and held in trust for future Deer Save efforts only.”

Please contact Ms. Meert at (705) 859-1653 or suemeert@hotmail.com for further details.

“We also have our Facebook page at ‘Deer Save Manitoulin’ where updates are posted regularly during winter watch,” Ms. Meert adds.