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Faced with destructive flooding, rising fuel costs and a darn sluggish economy, many people are having the hardest times in several years providing healthy food for their families. That is why food pantries and local community action groups are asking hunters to help by harvesting an extra deer and donating it to provide quality, healthy protein for those who can truly use the help.
In southern Wisconsin, Community Action Programs (CAPs), food pantries and local meat processors teamed up last year to operate a deer donation program in the CWD Management Zone after a loss in state funds meant the Department of Natural Resources could no longer underwrite the program.
Thanks to that partnership with hunters, nearly 1,500 deer were donated, tested, processed and distributed to food pantries. Continuing on last year's success, the group has formed "Target Hunger," a nonprofit aimed to make it easy for generous hunters and other community supporters to share the costs of running a deer donation program during the fall and early winter seasons. With continued success, the program could be a model for setting up similar collection and distribution opportunities statewide.
Walter Orzechowski, executive director of Southwest Wisconsin Community Action, Inc. of Dodgeville, and a member of Target Hunger, notes that people really enjoy the ground venison available from food pantries and have asked if more might be available.
"We've seen growing demand for venison from pantries in recent years, and with the increased costs of fuel and food, we do not anticipate that demand will decline." Orzechowski adds, "Hunter donated venison is extremely important to pantries, as it provides a valuable, nutritious source of lean protein for families who are struggling in today's economy."
During the year, members of Target Hunger have been busy raising funds to cover program costs. Two goals are to make deer donation a simple process at no additional cost to hunters and to encourage other community members to participate. Last season, hunters were asked to donate $20 with their deer to help cover processing costs. This year, Target Hunger hopes to have enough donations from community supporters prior to the season to cover those expenses. All money donated can be claimed as charitable tax deductions and the Department of Natural Resources will fully cover all costs associated with testing the venison for CWD. Hunters will be able to drop off their deer at participating meat processors as well as at DNR-operated registration stations where Target Hunger volunteers will be present. Visit Hunting in Wisconsin for a list of station locations.
It's equally important to enlist the help of other hunters in harvesting additional deer to reduce the deer herd size, decrease the incidence of disease spread, reduce browsing pressure and reduce the number of deer-car collisions. Recent survey research shows that a majority of hunters favor such a deer donation program, but few have actually participated and brought in a deer to help stock the pantries with quality meat.
With this in mind, local hunting and conservation groups, particularly in parts of Wisconsin where herd reduction is most critical, are making an organized push to get individuals and hunting clubs to commit to harvesting extra antlerless deer for the pantry program in the upcoming seasons. Jim McCaulley, Conservation Congress member from Iowa County, says, "Hunter participation can help bring deer numbers down. Hunters need to encourage other hunters to donate for charitable reasons and herd health. It's our turn to step up."
For details on how you can help through financial contributions or venison donations, contact Southwest Wisconsin CAP at (608) 935-2326 or Community Action Coalition of Dane County at (608) 246-4730.
Travis Anderson is a DNR wildlife biologist stationed in Dodgeville.