Venison donations from damage management in a time of need

By John McConnell, CWB®, USDA Wildlife Services, Eastern Region Assistant Director

White-tailed deer are a common site in many East Coast suburbs. Credit: Wildlife Services

Last year, USDA’s Wildlife Services donated 138 tons of goose, deer, elk and other meat. Equivalent to more than 1 million servings of protein for people in need, such donations make full use of this resource from wildlife damage management work.

These contributions continued during the global pandemic in two Atlantic states strongly impacted by the coronavirus.

In early March, USDA Wildlife Services in New York completed a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) removal on Long Island and delivered the carcasses to a meat processor. The venison wasn’t processed for delivery until after the COVID-19 movement restrictions were in place, and WS decided that donation near the source of harvest was most appropriate.

Before delivery took place, the processor reported on a Saturday morning that his freezer’s compressor had given out, and the food bank was closed for the weekend. A WS employee drove the two hours to the processor to retrieve the still-frozen venison in his personal pickup truck and delivered it to a freezer storage space he had secured that morning.

The following week, Wildlife Services delivered more than 1,500 pounds of frozen ground venison to an appreciative food bank. Although the delivery could have been postponed until post-COIVD-19, the quantity of venison equated to more than 6,000 meals for Long Islanders in need at this challenging time.

Since 2016, Wildlife Services in New Jersey has been assisting Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to manage an area herd, minimizing the risk of deer causing serious aircraft strike mishaps while maintaining a healthy deer population on base. Initial surveys indicated the base had an estimated 99 deer per square mile — nearly five times the recommended healthy carrying capacity. Deer removal, along with improvements in the airfield perimeter fence and automated gates, has resulted in a drastic decrease in deer accessing the McGuire flight-line: from 27 deer breaching the airfield fence in 2016 down to four in 2019.

While aviation safety has been a primary goal of three deer removals since 2017, a secondary benefit has been venison donations through New Jersey Hunters Helping the Hungry. Following March 2020 removals, Wildlife Services donated 787 pounds of venison, equal to 3,148 servings of protein to local families, especially important during this challenging time.

Wildlife Services is a Strategic Partner of TWS.


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