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Drop in Iowa’s deer population hurts food banks

December 16, 2012

SIOUX CITY - The success of a nine-year-old policy to reduce Iowa's deer population is having an unintended consequence: Less venison for food banks.

"It's critical, without any question," said Linda Scheid, executive director of the Food Bank of Siouxland, which helps needy people in 11 counties.

The group for years has relied on donations through the state Department of Natural Resources Help Us Stop Hunger program, which encourages hunters to give food banks any extra venison they don't need.

Article Photos

Sioux City Journal Photo
In this Nov. 28 photo, Linda Scheid displays some of the ground venison that was donated to the Food Bank of Siouxland in Sioux City. The success of a nine-year-old policy to reduce Iowa's deer population is having an unintended consequence: Less venison for food banks.

The program, started in 2005, was in conjunction with several Department of Natural Resources measures implemented to limit overpopulation of deer, which threaten crops and the safety of motorists. Since then, several communities, like Sioux City, have passed ordinances making it illegal to feed deer and other wild animals, removing an important food source.

Statistics show the various efforts have had an impact - the Iowa deer population has dropped about 30 percent in the past six years. (Some of the decrease may be tied to Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, a virus that has killed thousands of deer in recent seasons.)

The drop, however, means food banks are feeling the pressure. Jim Coffey, who coordinates the venison donation program for the state, said the decrease is the product of the initiative's success. Fewer deer to kill mean less meat for hunters to donate.

"It's a yin and yang situation," he said. "We're happy because the deer numbers are going down and (food banks are) not happy because they're having a harder time feeding families."

Meat from 47,000 deer has been donated to food banks through the Help Us Stop Hunger program since 2005. Some of it came from hunter Heidi Henderson, of Ute, Iowa, who gave venison last season. Henderson said she might donate more this year if she gets a deer during the second shotgun season, which starts Saturday.

"I don't like the burger," she said, "and it helps the needy."

The Food Bank of Siouxland received about 10,000 pounds of donated venison last year. Overall, however, donations are down about 28 percent since 2007.

The decline comes at a time when food banks face a high demand for food and contributions have dwindled. Donations to the Siouxland group dropped after the closure of the John Morrell meat processing plant in Sioux City and controversy over Dakota Dunes-based Beef Products Inc. Both were major donors.

Gov. Terry Branstad in May also rejected legislation that would have provided $500,000 to the Iowa Food Bank Association, which gives money to various organizations. Siouxland Food Bank was going to receive about $37,500.

Conservation officials expect venison donations to continue dropping as hunters thin the state's deer herd to meet state goals. Coffey suspects the same high food prices effecting food bank users may be influencing hunters to stock up.

"Usually that extra deer is the one that gets donated," he said.

Scheid is hoping for additional donations. The Sioux City food bank spent $99,721 for food from September 2010 to September 2011. The expense ballooned to $311,403 last year.

Officials budgeted $339,000 for food purchases this year, but realize it might cost even more, Scheid said.

She said any contributions from hunters would help them help others.

"It's really important," she said, "and something we're so grateful for."



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