TRAVERSE CITY — Deer, bear, fox, possum and hundreds of turkey frequent Mark Wolschon’s forest dinner table in Kalkaska County. The critters down as much as 400 pounds of corn and sunflower seeds each month.
Feeding the woodland creatures became a favorite pastime when Wolschon moved to his 10-acre property along Manistee Lake in the late 1970s.
“I love looking out my window and seeing wildlife in my backyard,” he said.
He’s not alone.
“Most of the neighbors do it,” Wolschon added. “So, the animals go from feed pile to feed pile.”
Wolschon installed a live-streaming web cam to share his buffet view with the world a few years back. His northtroll.com website entertains to the point where donors occasionally chip in on his $1,000 annual feed cost.
Recreational animal feeding keeps local farm store cash registers ringing. Owner of Kalkaska Feed and Supply Dick Ickes estimates he sells a ton of corn weekly for wildlife feed. Alden Schaub of McGough’s farm store in Traverse City, estimates that on average, he sells 50 large, 50-pound bags of corn daily for feeding deer, ducks and turkeys.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources allows scattering up to two gallons of feed at a time within 100 yards of a landowner’s residence, said Katie Keen, DNR wildlife technician and educator for Northern Michigan.
Exceptions include prohibited areas where communicable diseases like bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease are present.
But Keen has concerns about the practice beyond disease transmission, she said.
Animals survive on their own, she said, and deer are unable to digest large quantities of corn, Keen said. Keen suggested that property owners consider planting trees and bushes which provide wildlife a natural food source, she said.
“In northern Michigan, there’s plenty of natural food,” she said. “They don’t need to eat as much (in winter) and they’re fine without us. They’re smart. They are built to adapt and survive.”
Other DNR concerns related to supplemental feeding also include attracting predators and unwanted animals to a property, she said.
Wolschon said the DNR checked his feeding station and gave it a green light — with one exception.
“Most people love to see the bear cubs come in the spring,” he said. “That’s when I have to take it down for a week or two.”