After harsh winter, emergency deer feeding underway in northern Ontario

Ontario government says program expected to last four to six weeks in Kenora, Dryden and Sioux Narrows.

The Ontario government is undertaking emergency winter feeding of deer in the Dryden, Kenora and Sioux Narrows areas in the province's northwest region.

The program is designed to reduce the likelihood of high mortality associated with extreme winter conditions, from a particularly cold, snowy winter in the region, according to a government spokesperson.

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Starting this week, the ministry will lead feed drops in the area – both by air via helicopter and by land on snow-machine, depending on the area and accessibility.

Feeding will take place within Wildlife Management Unit 7B, in areas that have historically been identified as the most important deer wintering areas.

The ministry said those deer wintering areas were originally identified during aerial surveys.

Deer. Gord Ellis/CBC

The emergency deer food will consist of a mixture of corn and oats. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

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"We further refined that focus through an additional aerial survey that was completed this weekend," explained Michelle Nowak, an outreach specialist with the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry.

"During the recent survey we located pockets of the highest deer densities, marked those locations with GPS and then identified potential access routes for feeding crews. "

Deer will be fed a mixture of corn and oats.

Nowak said previous emergency deer feeding efforts have demonstrated this mixture is readily accepted by deer, will improve their condition and avoids the problems that are encountered when deer are fed a diet of pure corn.


Bruce Ranta is a retired biologist who worked much of his career in the Kenora area, and says extreme snow depths are dangerous for deer, and it has been deep since January.

Deer. Gord Ellis/CBC

The NDMNRF says deer feeding will take place within Wildlife Management Unit 7B,in areas that have historically been identified as the most important deer wintering areas. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

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"There's a rule of thumb that says if you have 50 centimetres for 50 days, deer are in serious trouble," said Ranta. "So we're either in serious trouble or looking at being in serious trouble in the next couple of days, and there's no melting on the horizon."

Ranta said snow depth readings in some areas near Kenora are the highest on record. He said during harsh winters when deer are in danger of starving, emergency feeding is one option wildlife managers can use.

The ministry said the emergency deer feeding is expected to last four to six weeks based on weather conditions and the ability of deer to access their own food sources.


The story was written by Gord Ellis, originally published for CBC News on March 17, 2022.