National Deer Alliance Gets its Marching Orders

The National Deer Alliance plans to focus its persuasive powers on Capitol Hill and state capitals in the months ahead to help policymakers realize chronic wasting disease is threatening deer herds and deer hunting across the United States.
Photo Credit: Shannon Rikard

Author: Patrick Durkin

AUSTIN, Texas – The National Deer Alliance plans to focus its persuasive powers on Capitol Hill and state capitals in the months ahead to help policymakers realize chronic wasting disease is threatening deer herds and deer hunting across the United States.

The NDA, not yet 2 years old, held its first policy-oriented meetings June 7-8 in downtown Austin at the organization’s 2017 North American Deer Summit. The meeting attracted nearly 120 representatives from state wildlife agencies, the hunting industry, university wildlife programs, and several hunter-based conservation organizations.

The participants agreed CWD poses the biggest threat to North America’s deer herds, which account for roughly 80 to 85 percent of the hunting industry’s annual business. The participants also agreed wildlife agencies must increase CWD testing to document and track the disease’s presence, and better understand its challenges.

CWD concerns got the most attention at the Austin summit. Nick Pinizzotto, president/CEO of the National Deer Alliance, said the NDA is working on several national issues discussed at the meetings. Photo Credit: Patrick Durkin

Meanwhile, the NDA emerged from the meetings as the best option for confronting CWD nationally while drawing support and guidance from three principal power sources:

— The nation’s three deer-oriented hunting organizations – Whitetails Unlimited, the Mule Deer Foundation and Quality Deer Management Association;

— The hunting industry, represented by the Archery Trade Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation;

— State wildlife agencies, which are trying to deal with CWD even as they endure deep budget cuts and dwindling staffs.

“Deer diseases, primarily CWD, will clearly be our focus and it’s an enormous job,” said Nick Pinizzotto, the NDA’s president/CEO. “NDA has to be a leader on CWD, because I can speak on these issues without shackles. Wildlife agencies and the various organizations can’t always advocate the way we can.

“It’s time for us to get to work. I wanted to make sure the NDA came out of the summit with clear actions. Everyone is tired of attending meetings where they just talk. It’s time to start pulling key people into meeting rooms and finding solutions. There’s simply too much at stake. We’ll be going to Capitol Hill to tell the federal government we need money to tackle CWD. They can’t keep acting like it’s not there. The longer they ignore it, the worse it gets.”

The Greatest Threat

Jay McAninch, the ATA’s president/CEO, also serves as chairman of the NDA Board of Directors. McAninch believes the NDA can work with the agencies, industries and hunting organizations to make CWD a national priority. Photo Credit: Shannon Rikard

Jay McAninch, the ATA’s president/CEO, also serves as chairman of the NDA Board of Directors. McAninch believes the NDA can work with the agencies, industries and hunting organizations to make CWD a national priority.

“Our efforts to unite and fight CWD are long overdue,” McAninch said. “CWD is the greatest threat to deer and the hunting industries that I’ve seen in my career, which began in 1974. We need a national CWD policy, and leaders to carry it out. We’ve been stuck in discussions too long. Hunters have been mad at hunters, wildlife agencies have been frustrated with hunters, and the industries have been unhappy with the agencies’ inconsistent efforts.

“Those three groups are finally sitting down and addressing these big challenges to deer,” McAninch continued. “Everyone is realizing how much we have invested in our whitetail and mule deer herds, whether it’s hunting, license revenues, or manufacturing and retailing that generates Pittman-Robertson funding. But the NDA’s effort is just getting started. We need more states, more companies and more organizations that care about deer to step up and make contributions so NDA can do its work, whether it’s fighting CWD, protecting public lands, or increasing access for hunting.”

The need for the NDA surfaced in March 2014 near Branson, Missouri, at the first North American Deer Summit meeting, which was convened by the QDMA. A follow-up summit meeting in May 2015 established a board of directors with McAninch as its chairman, who led a fundraising effort and search for the NDA’s first president/CEO. The board hired Pinizzotto in late 2015 after an extensive search.

Pinizzotto and McAninch noted that top biologists from five states with CWD – Arkansas, Wisconsin, Colorado, Wyoming and Texas – shared a similar regret when asked if they wish their states had handled things differently. They agreed they should have done more monitoring.

“Most states are still not doing anywhere near enough surveillance, mainly because they lack the funding to do it,” McAninch said. “They know if they did more testing, they’d find more cases, so it’s hurting their work. It’s hard to know the best way to attack a problem if you can’t do enough testing to pinpoint what you’re dealing with.”

National Strategy Needed

Wildlife Agency Panel shown above. Eric Lobner, right, of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, discusses CWD challenges his state has battled since 2002. Others on the panel, from left, are Ralph Meeker, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission; Scott Smith, Wyoming Game and Fish Department; Clayton Wolf, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; and Craig McLaughlin, Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Photo Credit: Patrick Durkin

Dan Forster, the ATA’s director of government relations and a moderator at the Austin meetings, expects the NDA to help craft a national strategy to tackle CWD. “I expect it will be a flexible planning process, not a closed group directing things from the top down,” Forster said. “The NDA will play a prominent role in the process. I’m sure Nick (Pinizzotto) will explore all CWD-related issues with the organizations that participate.”

Chip Hunnicutt, director of marketing for Arcus Hunting, would welcome that leadership. “It’s time for the NDA to put its foot down and state what it’s about,” he said. “The representatives who attended this meeting were impressive, and we had some great discussions with many decision-makers. I’m worried, though, that ‘Joe Hunter’ is still watching TV and doesn’t understand the NDA or why he should back it. It’s time to take what we discussed in Austin, write some good position statements, and develop plans that hunters can support.”

Sam Burgeson, president of the Wildlife Research Center and an NDA board member, agreed. “I hope the NDA stays focused on big issues like CWD, which is something everyone can rally behind,” he said. “I like the way (Pinizzotto) brought together all these different shareholders, and kept everyone focused. We won’t agree on everything, but I like the way it’s going. A lot of good, smart people are invested in the NDA’s work. It can be a big success.”

Although CWD concerns got the most attention at the Austin summit, Pinizzotto said the NDA is working on several other national issues discussed at the meetings. This includes:

— Establishing a working group with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to involve deer hunters and wildlife managers to help everyone understand the importance of the Farm Bill. Whit Fosburgh, president/CEO of the TRCP, said the Farm Bill is the nation’s single largest contributor to wildlife funding programs.

— Replicate hunting-access programs like those in Kansas and North Dakota to provide more places to hunt, while also keeping existing public lands in public ownership.

“We have many issues and opportunities, and they’ll be front and center for the NDA,” Pinizzotto said. “We’re literally just getting started. We’ve only been up and running about 18 months, but we’ve already made some significant strides. I see the NDA playing an increasingly larger, more meaningful role in the future.”

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