Deer Summit Day 1: The National Deer Alliance Launches

What started a year ago as an idea to mobilize deer hunters now has a name, a board of directors, and a mission to be the largest conservation organization on the continent.

It's the National Deer Alliance, and officers of the group told participants at the North American Deer Summit yesterday that the yearling organization is ready to advocate for deer hunters, whether they pursue whitetails or mule deer.

There will be plenty of advocating ahead. Participants heard that not all is well in deer country. Chronic wasting disease is creeping across the continent, a quarter of the country’s CRP acreage has disappeared in the last five years, and in America’s heartland, whitetail populations are down nearly a third.

As individual hunters, all those issues might be intractable. But with a coalition of deer advocates working together, they’re among the sorts of topics that can be addressed and resolved, CDA executive director Craig Dougherty told the nearly 300 attendees.

“The cheerleading is over. The band has gone home. Now’s the time to get to work on behalf of this resource that has given each of us so much,” Dougherty told the audience, a mix of hunters, wildlife biologists, landowners, industry representatives, and university researchers.

Dougherty, the first leader of the Deer Alliance, also announced a search for a permanent CEO of the group.

“It’s time for me to get back on my tractor and hand the reins to someone to take the NDA to the level it deserves,” said Dougherty. A nationwide search will begin this month for a CEO that NDA organizers hope will make the group the largest conservation outfit in the nation.

The Deer Summit is scheduled to run through Friday. Here are some highlights of its first day:

—The National Deer Alliance is a going concern. The organization has a board of directors, is incorporated as a 501(c)4 in the state of Virginia, and will be a stand-alone organization, with the early administrative support of the Quality Deer Management Association diminishing as the NDA gets on plane. Membership in the NDA is free and can be obtained by visiting nationaldeeralliance.com.

—The NDA has board representation from each of the three national deer groups: QDMA, the Mule Deer Federation, and Whitetails Unlimited. “This is the first time all three deer groups have been in the same room, talking and working together,” said NDA board president Jay McAninch, executive director of the Archery Trade Association.

—The group will succeed as long as it remains “sportsman centric in its thinking, puts priority on properly managing the resource, and emphasizes the sharing of memorable experiences from the field,” said Greg Johnson, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources in his welcome remarks.

—If the group expected to hear back-slapping about the state of the continent’s deer herd, they got some sobering news. Brian Murphy, head of the QDMA noted that “the politics of deer hunting and management is getting nastier and more divisive. There are lots of headwinds.”

Including:

  • In the 10 years between 2003 and 2013, states in the Midwest reported an average 23 percent decline in buck deer harvest. In Iowa, the decline is a staggering 40 percent.

  • In 2000, the average doe-to-fawn ratio (a ratio of fawns that survive until the beginning of the fall hunting season) was .89, meaning that for every 100 does, 89 fawns survived. In 2014, the ratio was .66. "That means on average it takes three does to recruit two fawns," said Kip Adams of the QDMA.

  • While 8 percent of turkey hunters belong to a turkey-advocacy organization, and 23 percent of elk hunters belong to an elk-advocacy organization, fewer than 1 percent of deer hunters belong to a deer-advocacy organization despite the fact that there are four times more deer hunters than turkey hunters in America. And despite the fact that whitetail hunting generates half of the $87 billion hunting industry.

  • Mule deer herds haven't recovered from the last significant decline, in the 1990s, Arizona biologist Jim Heffelfinger told the group. Populations are generally stable, but threats such as drought, habitat loss, invasive species, and human development are squeezing the species.

In the summit’s second day tomorrow, participants will learn about the impacts of EHD and predators on deer, will hear about challenges with agency/hunter relations, and the status of hunter recruitment and retention efforts.

Participants will also start to identify the issues that the NDA will focus on for the next three years. That’s the real goal of this summit, says Murphy.

“We will be whittling down the issues identified at the first summit last year into 15 clear, achievable action items that can be addressed and resolved before our next summit.”