Southeast Deer Partnership
Operational Guidelines

Prepared by officers and members of the 2020 Steering Committee

1. Partnership Description

The Southeast Deer Partnership is comprised of state and federal governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGO) and private sector entities that have vested interests in the future of deer hunting, wildlife management and conservation.

2. Mission Statement

Through collaboration with partners, increase awareness of the role and benefits of deer hunting and hunters throughout the Southeast.

3. Goals

  • Ensure the future of deer hunting and the benefits hunters provide to conservation efforts in the Southeast.
  • Promote effective, science-based management of deer populations and its relevance to habitat quality, at-risk species and socioeconomics.
  • Educate hunters, non-hunters and governmental decision makers throughout the Southeast on the value of deer hunting and hunters.
  • Support R3 (hunter recruitment, retention, reactivation) initiatives in partner states.
  • Increase deer hunter participation in partner states.
  • Increase deer hunter engagement in land management activities that benefit deer and at-risk species.

4. Objective

  • Complete the Partnership’s first “Project”: “Conservation of At-Risk Species by Deer Hunters in the Southeastern United States-An Innovative Model for Cooperative Conservation” and use project results to achieve Southeast Deer Partnership goals.

Scope of Work

I. Statement of Need

More than 70% of at-risk species in the U.S. occur on private lands (Groves et al. 2000). As a result, landscape-level conservation objectives cannot be achieved by focusing solely on public lands (Knight 1999). This is especially true in the southeast U.S. where 87% of the forested land is privately owned (US Forest Service 2008) and where many at-risk species occur (Robels et al. 2008, Miller et al 2009). Given that much of this land is predicted to be negatively influenced by fragmentation and development in the coming decades speaks to the need for timely conservation action on private lands (Stein et al. 2005). While there have been numerous conservation success stories on private lands, few have been effective at mitigating impacts to at-risk species on broad spatial scales. Consequently, new strategies are necessary to capitalize on private land conservation opportunities.

One of the most popular activities on private lands in the southern U.S. is hunting white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginanus). Annually, 9.2 million deer hunters utilize approximately 356 million acres in the U.S. for lease or ownership. Private land ownership and leasing generates a $16.28 billion annual investment in recreation (Macauley 2016). Deer management also plays a major role in land use and habitat conservation (Gordon et al. 2004). However, utilizing deer hunters to achieve landscape-level conservation objectives has received little attention despite the fact that white-tailed deer are the most pursued game animal in North America, annually generating nearly 50% of Pittman-Robertson funding (USFWS 2016). Pruitt (2018) showed that private lands managed primarily for white-tailed deer provided multiple habitat components that would benefit other wildlife species. Given that managing land for white-tailed deer is the dominant wildlife management regime in the Southeast, capitalizing on these efforts presents a unique opportunity for a voluntary conservation solution to managing at-risk species on private lands. 

A lack of early successional habitat has been documented as a cause for conservation concern in the eastern U.S. (Swanson et al. 2011). Pruitt (2018) showed that properties managed for white-tailed deer hunting contained greater amounts of early successional habitat than the surrounding landscape. Thus, increasing the amount, distribution and configuration of early successional habitat across the landscape via practices such as thinning, prescribed fire, food plots and old field management would likely benefit at-risk species. 

Despite the numerous benefits of deer hunting, the number of hunters in the U.S. has been declining the past two decades and this trend is accelerating due to the loss of “baby boomers” who represent the largest portion of the current hunting population. The loss of these hunters contributed to the sharpest decline in any five-year period on record (2011-2016) when 2.2 million hunters (16%) were lost in the United States (USFWS 2016). Continued hunter decline will have significant negative impacts on wildlife conservation on public and private lands and on state wildlife agency funding. This is especially true for deer hunters who contribute nearly 60% of the $37 billion in annual revenue generated from hunting in the United States. The loss of revenue from deer hunting will have far-reaching implications for all wildlife and, especially, at risk species. As a result, efforts to increase deer hunter participation as well as engagement in wildlife management practices that benefit both deer and at-risk species is paramount. The purpose of this project is to leverage the numerous positive values of deer hunting to increase public awareness, stabilize (if not increase) deer hunter participation, and increase deer hunter engagement in land management activities that benefit deer hunting as well as at-risk species.

II. Methods

Phase 1:  Gather, mine, and analyze all available data on the economic, social and conservation benefits of deer hunting in the southern U.S.

The data sources are many, such as the National Survey of Fishing and Hunting; reports by Responsive Management, and Southwick and Associates; surveys of hunters/customers by state agencies; NDA Whitetail Reports; numerous journal publications; etc.). Importantly, the data will be extracted and analyzed by an economic professional. This phase will produce defensible data showing the magnitude of benefits from deer hunting, such as:

a. Contributions to local and regional economies (hunting industry, travel industry, habitat management industry, meat processing industry, jobs generated, etc.)

b. Contributions to conservation funding (e.g., Pittman-Robertson)

c. Contributions to agency budgets through license and stamp sales

d. Contributions to land conservation through land purchases and lease fees

e. Work days and dollars deer hunters contribute to improving wildlife habitat

f. Improvements to wildlife habitat in areas managed for deer, including benefits to other wildlife species, especially at-risk species

g. Safety of deer hunting compared to other activities

h. Quantity of organic meals provided through deer hunting 

i. Health and wellness benefits of a hunting and wildlife stewardship lifestyle

Phase 2:  Develop and implement a fact-based communications plan on the benefits of deer hunting. 

This phase would utilize professional marketing and public relations experts to take the facts and data gathered in Phase 1 and turn them into communications products (video, social media, Youtube, print media, etc.) that can be used by state wildlife agencies and other project partners. Much of this will be creating media templates and insertable data that would provide partners high quality media that can be tailored with messages specific to individual states or audiences. For example, a short, high-quality Youtube video that communicates how much Pittman-Robertson funding is generated by deer hunting, and the video would be easily tailored by inserting dollar or acre figures from a specific state.  Social and print media products will be set up similarly.

This project has been discussed among many partners including the Deer Committee of the Southeast Section of the Wildlife Society (DC SETWS), Cervid Working Group (CWG) of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA), National Deer Association (NDA), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) with high levels of interest. The project would be administered through the NDA. The project is proposed to operate for at least three years. NDA would manage the project under the guidance of a steering committee, and the steering committee will have representatives from all partners. 

Phase 3:  Implement Messaging

This phase will involve media delivery.  Some media will focus on the southern U.S., while others will be state specific. The range of possible media include: PSAs, print, digital, social, radio and TV. The duration of Phase 3 will be subject to funding and success at increasing awareness, hunting participation, hunter engagement and other project metrics.

III. Deliverables

Phase I Deliverables (Research Phase):

  • State-specific data on the economic, social, cultural and conservation values of deer hunting that state wildlife agencies, NGOs and other partners can use to promote these values within their states.
  • State-specific data on habitat management activities undertaken by deer hunters on private lands and their potential impacts (positive or negative) on at-risk species.
  • Regional and comparable (neighboring state) data on these same values.
  • Recognition within NDA’s media outlets (magazine, web, social) touting the importance of this project and recognizing partners. Current reach is 3.3 million unique individuals annually.

Phase II Deliverables: (Messaging Phase)

  • Focus group tested messaging that can be used to deliver the data gathered in Phase I.
  • Media templates (digital, print, web, graphic elements, etc.) that can be used as vehicles to deliver the messaging.
  • Access to marketing and public relations experts to uniquely tailor messaging to meet state-specific goals. 
  • Identification of all potential media outreach partners within participating states including outdoor writers, magazines, TV shows, radio programs, NGOs, websites, blogs, influencers, etc.
  • Recognition within NDA’s media outlets (magazine, web, social) touting the importance of this project and recognizing partners. Current reach is 3.3 million unique individuals annually.

Phase III Deliverables (Implementation Phase)

  • Media delivery in participating states, paid for by project cooperators. Some media will focus on the southern U.S., while others will be state specific. The range of possible media include: PSAs, print, digital, social, radio and TV.
  • Access to marketing and public relations experts to uniquely tailor messaging to meet state-specific goals. 
  • NDA to provide project briefing to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding:
    • Data on the economic, social, cultural and conservation values of deer hunting.
    • Messaging for the hunting and non-hunting public regarding the values of deer hunting.
    • Messaging on how deer management provides positive impacts for non-game and at-risk species.
    • Guidance on land management strategies that improve deer hunting on federal lands while also benefiting at-risk species.

IV. Literature Cited

Gordon, I. J., A. J. Hester, M. Festa-Bianchet. 2004. The management of wild large herbivores to meet economic, conservation, and environmental objectives. Journal of Applied Ecology 41:1021-1031.

Groves, C. R., L. S. Kutner, D. M. Storms, M. P. Murrary, J. M. Scott, M. Schafale, A. S. Weakley, and R. L. Pressey.  2000.  Owing up to our responsibilities: who owns land important for biodiversity? Pages 275-300 in B. A. Stein, L. S. Kutner, and J. S. Adams, editors. Precious heritatge: the status of biodiversity in the United States. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. 

Knight, R. L. 1999.  Private lands: the neglected geography. Conservation Biology 13:223-224. 

Macaulay, L. 2016. The role of wildlife-associated recreation in private land use and conservation: providing the missing baseline. Land Use Policy 58:218-233.

Miller, D. A., T. B. Wigley, and K. V. Miller.  2009.  Managed forest and conservation of terrestrial biodiversity in the southern United States. Journal of Forestry 107:197-203.

Pruitt, H. P.  2018.  Contributions of deer management cooperatives to wildlife conservation. Thesis, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA.

Robels, M. D., C. H. Flather, S. M. Stein, M. D. Nelson, and A. Cutko.  2008.  The geography of private forests that support at risk species in the conterminous United States. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 6:301-307.

Stein, S. M., R. E. McRoberts, and R. J. Alig, M. D. Nelson, D. M. Theobold, M. Eley, M. Dechter, and M. Carr.  2005.  Forests on the edge: housing development on America’s private forests. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, Oregon, USA.

Swanson, M. E., J. F. Franklin, R. L. Beschta, C. M. Crisafulli, D. A. Dellasala, R. L. Hutto, D. B., Lindenmayer, and F. J. Swanson.  2011.  The forgotten state of forest succession: early-successional ecosystems on forest sites. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 9:117-125.

U.S. Department of Interior. 2018. 2016 National survey of fishing, hunting, and wildlife-associated recreation. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.

5. Partners (as of January 2021)

Partner Contribution Category Key
1 Endorsement
2 In-Kind
3 Financial

6. Governance

  • Oversight of, and adherence to, partnership mission, goals and objectives will be directed by a Steering Committee comprised of partners and others selected by the Committee.
  • The Committee will meet as needed to perform necessary oversight responsibilities.
  • The Committee will have two officers, including a Chairman and Vice-Chairman.

Chairman and Vice-Chairman Shared Roles & Responsibilities

a. Organize Committee meetings, seek agenda items, build and distribute agenda.

b. Preside over Committee meetings according to accepted rules of procedure (i.e., Robert’s Rules of Order).

c. Represent the Committee and provide project progress reports and budget updates to and communicate with Committee members, partners and other third parties.

d. Provide updates on third party contractual agreements necessary to meet objectives.

e. Distribute essential information to the Committee members on mission associated issues and execute Committee business when appropriate.

f. Create ad-hoc sub-committees when necessary and approved by the Committee.

7. Steering Committee & Officers

Larry Williams
State Supervisor of Ecological Services
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1339 20th Street
Vero Beach, FL 32960-3559
(772) 469-4285

Kip Adams, Chairman
Chief Conservation Officer
National Deer Association
170 Whitetail Way
Bogart, GA 30622
(570) 439-5696

Steve Shea, Vice Chairman
SETWS, Deer Committee, Chairman
Shea Wildlife & Environmental Services, Inc.
1600 Marina Bay Drive (Unit 301)
Panama City, FL 32409
(850) 227-8455

Matt Ross
Director of Conservation
National Deer Association
99 Louden Road
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
(518) 391-8414

Nick Pinizzotto
President & CEO
National Deer Association
PO Box 1228
Indiana, PA 15701
(833) 255-3337 ext. 1

Keith Gauldin
Wildlife Section Chief
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Wildlife Section
64 North Union Street, Suite 584
Montgomery, AL 36104
(334) 242-3469

Gabe Jenkins
Acting Director, Information and Education Division
Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources
# 1 Sportsman’s Lane
Frankfort, KY 40601
(502) 892-4490

Jason Isabelle
Cervid Program Supervisor
Missouri Department of Conservation
3500 East Gans Road
Columbia, MO 65201
(573) 815-7901 ext. 2902

Kevyn Wiskirchen
Private Lands Deer Biologist
Missouri Department of Conservation
3500 East Gans Road
Columbia, MO 65201
(573) 815-7901 ext. 2899

Cale Godfrey
SEAFWA Wildlife Resources Committee, Liaison
Cervid Working Group
Assistant Chief, Wildlife Resources Division
Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources
7870 Villa Park Drive, P.O. Box 90778
Henrico, VA 23228-0778
(804) 367-1196