Staff Blog: Dan Forster, Director of Government Relations

Here's everything you need to know about ATA's advocacy efforts.
Photo Credit: Tami Heileman/U.S. Department of the Interior.

Author: Dan Forster

As the temperatures begin to wane and fallen leaves clutter my recently mowed lawn, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stay indoors. I am succumbing to the allure of the hunting season and visiting “blank spots on a map,” as Aldo Leopold called our wilderness getaways.

With archery season upon us, there’s much to do in both preparation and pursuit. As I start strategizing on how best to fulfill this year’s mentoring commitments, however, I take comfort that ATA’s many communications, programming and government relations efforts seek to ensure that hunting and the “anticipation of the hunt” will remain with us, and our mentees, always.

As part of the Archery Trade Association’s Government-Relation (GR) team, I am privileged to work on behalf of ATA members to implement policies, strengthen relationships and R3 (recruitment, retention and reactivation) programming, and develop plans to expand archery and bowhunting in the United States.

GR efforts are strategically targeted to help boost archery and bowhunting participation and contribute to a more cohesive industry, supported by local, state and federal authorities. Much of our energy is spent working with wildlife agency leadership, conservation partners, lawmakers, and others to ensure the industry’s goals are met, and ATA members have the resources and support they need.

The type of issues that deserve ATA’s active engagement are quite varied and dynamic. Specific categories include legislative, regulatory and policy development, hunter and shooter recruitment, wildlife disease and resource management, and member and customer service engagement. These issues arise at all scales including national, state, and local levels – let’s take a look at some of the prominent issues.

Pittman-Robertson Modernization Legislation: H.R. 2591 and S. 1613

One of the most significant national legislative efforts for ATA and our state agency partners is the modernization of PR. For the past year, we have worked with partners to pass critical legislation that will ensure continued funding for wildlife conservation, hunter education, and shooting sports through the modernization of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, originally developed in 1937.

Both H.R. 2591 and S. 1613 were introduced this session by the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate Congressional Sportsman Caucus, respectively, and currently await committee and/or floor action. This legislation would let state wildlife agencies use federal excise tax revenues (which are paid by the archery/bowhunting industry) on activities that are currently restricted, including public outreach and range development.

This legislative initiative is strongly supported by the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies which represents all 50 state fish and wildlife agencies as well as the broader conservation community. These bills do not increase or otherwise change taxes or the revenue structure but simply allow state fish and wildlife agencies to spend a portion of the already-collected excise funds on programs designed to grow bowhunting and archery participation.

ATA remains committed to working with state fish and wildlife agency directors, industry leaders and non-government organization colleagues to obtain bill co-sponsors, encourage committee action and facilitate passage. If you are interested in supporting this effort, contact your members of Congress and support passage of this legislation.

State Bowhunting Equipment Regulations Survey

In the Pittman-Robertson Act, H.R. 2591 and S. 1613 were introduced this year with bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, and await committee and/or floor action. This legislation would let state wildlife agencies use federal excise tax revenues, which are paid by the archery/bowhunting industry, on public-outreach and range-development programs that promote bowhunting and recreational archery. In turn, those efforts would help secure funding for future programs. Photo Credit: Shane Indrebo.

GR team member Gregg Brown recently conducted a comprehensive review of bowhunting regulations – specific to big-game hunting equipment – in all 50 states pertaining to the 2016-2017 archery-only hunting season. The purpose was to create awareness of the complexity of bowhunting regulations state-to-state, and improve customer confidence and compliance with these regulations. More specifically, we wanted to present state regulations to respective agency leadership in a way that would motivate each to review, and hopefully change, unnecessary, outdated and complex regulations.

The survey compared regulations regarding legal equipment used for bowhunting deer and other related guidelines among states and regions. We summarized the results and discussed state-specific findings with state wildlife agency leaders at the recent Western and Midwestern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ meeting. The information will also be presented and discussed individually with state wildlife agency staff in other regions in the coming months.

Given the high national emphasis on recruitment, retention, and reactivation of the hunting constituency, state agency directors greatly appreciate this effort and are willing to initiate efforts to reduce regulatory complexities and improve communication in respective states. We are confident this effort will affect positive change and result in numerous regulatory improvements and reduce complexity and confusion.

Efforts to Recruit, Retain and Reactivate Bowhunters

To facilitate improved use of hunting and fishing license information for marketing purposes, we are combining efforts with the respected research firm, Responsive Management, and seven state fish and wildlife agencies to conduct an experimental e-mail campaign designed to reactivate and recruit bowhunters this fall. The current list of partnering states includes Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.

The reactivation and recruitment effort reaches lapsed and licensed deer hunters to boost bowhunting participation and license renewal rates. The emails will include a variety of message themes to encourage bowhunters to renew their hunting licenses. The project also tests different strategies for the timing of the reactivation emails.

This project is ongoing as the ATA continues to work with partner states to improve license and communication infrastructure and to initiate emails associated with this campaign during the 2017-18 bowhunting season. Results of this effort will be used to help determine the most effective strategies for future state-based efforts.

Improved Amtrak policy for Transporting Archery Equipment

Last fall, ATA learned that archery equipment was prohibited as either checked baggage or carry-on luggage on Amtrak trains. The GR team immediately spearheaded an effort to further investigate and ultimately rally support to eliminate this prohibition.

ATA engaged other interested partners, including USA Archery and the National Field Archery Association, to assist with this effort. We also sought assistance from Congress, as Amtrak was created by Congress as a part of the Federal Railroad Administration and oversight is provided by House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation.

This summer and because of ATA’s efforts, Amtrak reconsidered its position and adopted a revised policy, which took effect on July 10. The policy specifies that all archery equipment – such as bows, arrows, and crossbows – may now be transported in hard or soft cases in checked baggage. This is a significant victory for archers and bowhunters. Archery participants nationwide can now use Amtrak when traveling for tournaments and bowhunting trips.

Chronic Wasting Disease Monitoring

The ATA considers Chronic Wasting Disease a serious threat to our country’s valuable wildlife resources, and believes it’s vitally important to do everything reasonable to prevent its spread. Photo Credit: John Hafner.

The GR team spends considerable effort working with agencies and conservation partners to address one of the most significant threats to white-tailed deer and deer hunting in the United States – chronic wasting disease (CWD). CWD, an always-fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose in the United States and Canada, remains a significant issue for sportsmen and the industry. This disease poses a serious threat to our country’s valuable wildlife resources.

ATA staff continue to monitor CWD’s spread and population threats, while working with state and federal agencies, non-government organizations and others regarding all aspects of CWD policy, research and management. The ATA recently co-organized a meeting with the National Deer Alliance and more than a dozen partners in Washington, D.C., to create a coordinate strategy for CWD funding, education, and political action. The assembled leaders agreed that “CWD is a major threat to deer and deer hunting, and action is needed” and that “State wildlife agencies, the federal agency and nongovernmental organizations need funding and support for research and surveillance efforts.” These combined efforts were the focus of a targeted partnership and ongoing strategic planning that will have the power to yield better results, and more funding and support for CWD research and surveillance.

The ATA continues to support the National Deer Alliance (NDA) and its burgeoning role as a national facilitator of CWD issues among the conservation community. ATA encourages its members and associates to become a free member of the NDA to add your support.

ATA’s Deer Protection Program

Government relations efforts continue to focus on providing guidance and oversight for ATA’s Deer Protection Program (DPP).  The program’s primary purpose is to ensure that ATA-member scent manufacturers and their product suppliers do everything possible to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild deer, elk and moose herds in the United States.

All participants in this program have joined voluntarily and understand their role in protecting our wildlife resources. Each participant has agreed to take measures to meet or exceed state and federal CWD requirements and ensure their products come from healthy, non-CWD infected deer herds. Additional information regarding the DPP may be found at:

Our GR team regularly works with program participants, as well as state fish and wildlife agencies, to share updated research and related information as it pertains to CWD and restriction issues regarding urine-based scent products. We are currently encouraging state agencies in West Virginia and New York to adopt the Deer Protection Program and its standards to further reduce the already-low risk of spreading CWD in deer populations by using scent products marked with the ATA’s “Seal of Participation.”

We recently established an Oversight Advisory Working Group to provide third-party credibility regarding oversight and implementation of program details.

Proposals Receives Funding from the Multistate Conservation Grant Program

Dan Forster and Jay McAninch, ATA president/CEO, crisscross the country to attend meetings on high-priority hunting and conservation issues. For instance, they represented the industry at the Sportsmen’s Summit, hosted Aug. 2 by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, to share bowhunting recruitment and retention efforts that engage new participants. Photo Credit: John Hafner.

Of course, the GR team is always looking for fruitful partnerships and additional resources to leverage the work we do. As such, the ATA recently submitted two project proposals to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), which administers a portion of funds generated by federal excise taxes to support the Multistate Conservation Grant Program. National Conservation Needs targeted for funding include efforts to recruit, retain, and reactivate hunters. Our project proposals collectively sought to leverage $145,000 in combined partner funds to secure an additional $232,000 in grant funds to support customer R3 engagement and participation monitoring. GR is happy to report that on September 13, 2017, AFWA approved both Grants for the requested funding!

The ATA serves as the principal in one grant, in which we seek to combine information from ongoing retention and reactivation marketing efforts and recruitment research to develop appropriate programming for bowhunting R3. The results will provide state agencies with a toolbox of research-tested strategies and best management practices for increasing bowhunting participation in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.

In the second grant, ATA partnered with the American Sportfishing Association and other conservation organizations to develop data-based strategies to monitor and evaluate bowhunting participation and other license-based recreational pursuits. The goal is to facilitate state license tracking, data mining and timely presentation of license data to better monitor participation trends and R3 effectiveness.

As our collective efforts to help boost archery and bowhunting participation continue, please take time to share your passion and outdoor pursuits with others. The time you spend mentoring others is the most dependable way to perpetuate our industry’s future.

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