LOUISVILLE, Kentucky. – About 250 hunters, landowners, wildlife biologists and university researchers from across the country gathered here in early May to help launch a new group dedicated to the protection of deer herds in the United States.
That might sound like a vague goal — maybe even boring. After all, do we really need another deer hunting organization?
Current groups like Whitetails Unlimited and the Quality Deer Management Association are dedicated to white-tailed deer, and the Mule Deer Foundation is committed to Western muleys. And all three organizations do a good job serving their deer hunting membership.
Even so, all three groups agree they aren’t set up to work with wildlife agencies, lawmakers and other policymakers – or each other, for that matter. They also realize that even when they combine their memberships, they represent less than 1 percent of the nation’s approximately 13 million deer hunters.
That’s why the three groups agreed to pitch in to create the National Deer Alliance with help from the Archery Trade Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Bass Pro Shops, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re an Illinois whitetail hunter or a Colorado mule deer hunter, if you hunt for antlers in Texas or for meat in Maine, for trophy blacktails in Oregon or for food-plot whitetails in Georgia,” the NDA says. “Or even if you chase Coues deer in Arizona or moose in Montana. The NDA aims to have a place for us all, no matter which deer inspires us.”
The need for the NDA was identified in March 2014 when the QDMA organized the first national deer “Summit” to address growing concerns about whitetails and mule deer. The Summit meetings identified several threats to deer and deer hunting, including shrinking habitat; declining habitat quality; chronic wasting disease; epizootic hemorrhagic disease; prolonged and widespread droughts and declining hunter numbers and license revenues.
The NDA began taking shape over the next 14 months, appointing Jay McAninch, president/CEO of the Archery Trade Association, as head of the NDA board of directors and Brian Murphy, CEO of the QDMA, as the Board’s vice president. The NDA Board will soon begin searching for a CEO to lead the organization, define and develop its mission, and start advocating for policies and funding for “America’s premier wildlife species.”
Mule Deer Foundation president Miles Moretti said deer herds are threatened.
“Many of the same struggles you’re now seeing in whitetails are the same problems we were documenting in mule deer when I started my career in the late 1970s,” Moretti said. “Disease issues, habitat issues, predator problems and declining revenues from license sales — you’re seeing them in the East now, too.
“Deer are the main funding sources for wildlife agencies, and we can’t take them for granted,” he added.
Recently the Upper Midwest has suffered widespread habitat loss as lands are removed from the Conservation Reserve Program and put back into production to grow corn for ethanol and high fructose syrup.
Kip Adams, the QDMA’s director of outreach and education, put recent CRP losses at 9 million acres, about 25 percent of total CRP lands. In the past seven years alone, the Midwest lost about 5 million CRP acres.
Adams also said the nation’s whitetail herds also haven’t been as productive the past 15 years. Several years ago when the QDMA began tracking fawn “recruitment” – how many spring-born fawns survive till autumn’s hunting season — it took about two adult does to shepherd two fawns into the fall population. For 2014, it took three adult does to recruit two fawns.
The NDA intends to address those issues and others as it moves forward, while also working with states to base habitat-improvement and management decisions on science more than politics.
“The big issues affecting North America’s deer herds won’t be solved overnight,” McAninch said. “But by engaging hunters and the American public, we can do a lot more to maintain healthy deer herds for future generations. Deer are keystone species in the United States, and they’ve been the life-blood of wildlife agencies for the past many decades.”