The cost of managing Minnesota’s deer: 33 million bucks

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There’s an awful lot of spending in the $72 billion two-year budget recently signed into law, much of it the subject of fierce, headline-grabbing partisan battles: public safety, education, the social safety net, and so on.

But there are also plenty of line items that flew under the radar. Like deer, for instance: The environment and natural resources budget includes $32.8 million earmarked for the state’s whitetail deer population.

There are roughly 1 million deer in Minnesota, so it’s kind of like if the state mailed a 33-dollar check to every buck, doe and fawn.

How do those bucks get spent?

The bulk of the appropriation — $17 million — comes from the DNR’s “deer management account.” By law, money in that fund can only be spent on deer management and habitat improvement. That includes things like prescribed burns, forest and grassland development, and efforts to improve winter food supplies for deer, according to a 2022 DNR report.

Those deer management funds come primarily from hunter license fees.

The second-largest item in Minnesota’s deer budget is $8.4 million for inspections, investigations and enforcement actions taken against deer farms, and for managing chronic wasting disease (CWD) more broadly. CWD is a communicable, neurological disorder — think Mad Cow Disease but for deer — with a similar concern that the condition could jump to humans.

In addition to placing a moratorium on new operations, the legislation tightens regulations on fencing, testing and dealing with positive CWD cases at deer farms. That new regulation will require stepped-up enforcement, which is where the $8.4 million comes into play.

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A separate $5.4 million sum is earmarked for additional CWD actions statewide. Those include testing thousands of deer shot by hunters each year, researching CWD hotspots, tracking outbreaks, disposing of infected deer and issuing reports on the disease.

The budget directs an additional $1.6 million to the University of Minnesota to develop CWD contingency plans.

Finally, Bemidji State University gets $393,000 for an analysis of urban deer behavior in the city of Bemidji. The goal is to improve special archery hunts put on by some cities in the hopes of reducing car collisions, mitigating deer damage to plants and limiting the spread of CWD.

One important caveat to these numbers: there are many other line items in the natural resources budget, like land acquisitions and preservation efforts, that benefit the state’s deer even if they’re not done with deer exclusively in mind. Conversely, much of the habitat improvement earmarked for deer also benefit other species that share the same environment.

In the end, $32.8 million may not seem like a huge sum in a budget measured by the billion. But it’s nonetheless notable that the state devotes more money to deer management than to many human endeavors — $25 million for film production tax credits, for instance, or $17.7 million for electric vehicle rebates, or the entire $15 million annual operating budget of the state auditor’s office.

The DNR, however, estimates that deer hunting “generates nearly $500 million annually in total economic activity to the state.” If you buy that figure, $32.8 million seems like a reasonable investment.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>