In March of 2014, 225 selected stakeholders met with at Cedar Lakes Missouri for the First Whitetail Summit. With help from Johnny Morris of BassPro and the Quality Deer Management Association, the group worked through two days of breakout sessions to identify the top issues concerning the future of whitetails.
One major concern relative to the future of deer was the fact no single organization gives prominence to these issues, or represents hunters on policy and management concerns. In other words, there is no whitetail deer advocacy group in America.
A second Summit held in Louisville on May 6-7 of this year was open to everyone and divided into 6 stakeholder groups (deer hunters, landowners, hunting industry, game agencies, academia/research, non-governmental organizations). The goal was to form a national organization and to discuss deer issues of concern..
Fifteen issues made the top ten for all six stakeholder groups at the first Summit. The first thing done at the second Summit was to cut that list down to the top five. Participants then selected all the things that could be done to address each issue.
Finally, that long list was narrowed down to the top three action items for each issue. Thus we ended up with 15 action items that the new organization, now called the National Deer Alliance (NDA), will address.
Major issues included the following:
Recruitment and Retention
Hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation was selected as a major issue. Shane Mahoney addressed a luncheon about the ecological and social benefits of 40 million hunters and fishermen eating sustainable, healthy wild game and fish and sharing that with another 120 million people a year.
One of the top action items selected was to capitalize on the positive image of hunters feeding the hungry, as well as family and friends. The National Deer Alliance will also promote the benefits of raising children in a hunting/angling-centric environment.
Politics and Deer Hunting
Political influence on deer hunting and management was also a key issue. The group felt there was a need to promote scientific, rather than political, decision making and advocate for wildlife agencies to remain the authority in jurisdiction debates. They also want to get political allies involved in the National Deer Alliance.
One major factor stands out. CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) fields have been a huge bonus for deer and other wildlife.
However, demand for corn, used in the manufacturing of ethanol, has caused farmers to cancel their CRP programs. Nationwide that reduction totals 9-million acres, of which 25 percent are in the Midwest.
Action items selected by the attendees included how to better explain how habitat improvement for deer benefits other natural resources, and for the NDA to be active in Farm Bill development.
Public Perception of Hunting
Promoting the food and healthy lifestyle benefits of hunting, and starting an advertising campaign to promote the true values of hunting were top action items for this issue.
One of the more controversial issues debated was the captive cervid industry, which was the most alarming to all the stakeholders in attendance. A panel session was held on captive cervids and Shawn Scafer, Executive Director of the North American Deer Farmers Association, represented his organization's position.
Many of his points were not accepted by most attendees. For example, Scafer believes — and apparently many deer farmers agree — that Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has always been in the wild, but that it was not discovered because no one looked for it. From that belief he took the position that CWD comes from the wild to game farms and not the other way around.
The origins of CWD would be difficult to prove either way. However, there are several examples in which a state wildlife agency has studied thousands of deer for years, only to find the disease in the wild within a year after it was found on a nearby game farm.
Relative to a major concern over deer farms, attendees want the NDA to advocate the position that deer should be classified as wildlife, not livestock.
This would encourage elected officials to pay more attention to science-based information when making decisions on the cervid industry. The NDA also wants to advocate for more funding for disease research.
The group felt that there is a need for both the public and elected officials to fully understand and discuss the threats involved with the captive cervid industry, and how that may impact the North American Wildlife Model and the future of deer management.
The Need for Unity
When there are national or regional issues on wild turkeys, hunters turn to the National Wild Turkey Federation for help. When there are issues on elk, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation steps in. Deer are the most commonly pursued and economically important big-game animal in North America.
However, less than 1 percent of deer hunters belong to a national conservation organization dedicated to the protection of deer and our deer hunting heritage. This lack of unity prevents a strong, centralized voice to address current and emerging threats such as hunter access, disease, predators, and declining deer populations.
The time has come for deer hunters to organize and speak up for their rights.
The NDA now has a board of directors, with Jay McAninch of the Archery Trade Association at the helm. Their first objective is to hire a Director and move on the various issues discussed at the Summit.
This new organization is dedicated to uniting deer hunters, managers and enthusiasts like never before and harnessing this power to achieve positive outcomes for deer and deer hunting. NDA's goal is to serve as the unified voice of the modern deer hunter and guardian of North America's wild deer, wildlife habitat and our hunting heritage. NDA fuels the passion for deer hunting and conservation through engagement, fellowship, and education.
NDA members will realize two key benefits:
- NDA members will be kept informed on key deer issues in North America on a weekly basis through email, and in real-time through social media and the NDA website.
- NDA members will have the opportunity to have their voice heard by participating in NDA's advocacy efforts. A steering committee with broad representation will guide these efforts. When a subject of broad concern is identified, the committee will engage NDA staff and members to achieve positive outcomes for deer and deer hunting. Member engagement in advocacy will be voluntary.
Membership to the NDA is free. To learn more about the National Deer Alliance and to become a member go to www.nationaldeeralliance.com..