The National Deer Association is pleased to name the USDA Forest Service (USFS) as its 2023 Agency of the Year Award winner. This annual award is presented to an agency that has practiced innovative and progressive deer and wildlife habitat management techniques; has engaged the public, deer hunters and other key stakeholders in the deer and habitat management process; and/or has affected positive change in deer and habitat management in the last year, including but not limited to addressing major threats to deer with adaptive strategies, programs or through adopting science-based regulations or policies.
The merit is based on the broad, collaborative partnership exercised between NDA and the USFS in 2023, both through Stewardship Agreements to achieve on-the-ground management in numerous landscapes across the country, as well as USFS staff assisting with volunteer habitat workdays on three National Forests as part of NDA’s Working for Wildlife Tour. These efforts significantly contributed to NDA’s Public Lands Initiative, which has a goal of improving 1 million acres of public land by 2026.
“The USDA Forest Service bears the responsibility of stewarding 193 million acres for the enjoyment of America’s public, including those who are concerned about and enjoy observing and hunting sustainable deer populations,” said Nick Pinizzotto, NDA’s President and CEO. “We are honored to give them one of our highest conservation awards and truly look forward to a burgeoning relationship that aims to increase our collective impact.”
Congress created the federal Stewardship program that allows USFS to authorize a partner like NDA “to perform services to achieve land management goals for the National Forests and the public lands that meet local and rural community needs.” Projects under this program must address at least one of seven named forest or rangeland management goals and include practices that ultimately improve land conditions, shifting the focus toward a desired future resource condition to restore and maintain healthy forest ecosystems. They are also a means for the USFS and other federal agencies to increase their workforce capacity, as well as contribute to the development of sustainable rural communities and provide a continuing source of local income and employment.
In 2023, NDA implemented 10 Stewardship Projects with the USFS and addressed landscape-level access and forest health issues in 17 states on 14 National Forests. To date NDA has improved 746,509 acres of public land, providing remarkable progress towards the million-acre goal. These accomplishments would not be possible without direct USFS staff and programmatic support.
Entrusted with the care of our Nation’s forests and grasslands, one of the USFS mottos is “Caring for the Land and Serving People” – thus, public engagement is a foundational element of what they do. Staff utilize a variety of methods, approaches, and tools to create meaningful experiences that support the relationship between the land, the agency, and the public. The agency certainly provides a structured process for the public to solicit feedback and input into a specific proposed action or decision through public comment periods, and NDA is actively engaged in this process through our grassroots advocacy center to represent deer hunters/enthusiasts and land managers.
In 2023, NDA’s policy team and members spoke out on six state and three federal engagement opportunities through over a dozen action alerts, ranging from vegetation management projects on a particular Ranger District to issues more national in scope, such as those impacting climate resilience, ecological integrity, and social and economic sustainability. Moreover, NDA staff were involved in other ways last year, too, including several USFS stakeholder collaboratives, which are organized efforts to bring citizen-lead groups from diverse backgrounds together to build consensus on a forest management project or plan and employ a shared outcome.
Finally, NDA partnered with the USFS, three different state wildlife agencies, MeatEater and numerous conservation partners to host the Working for Wildlife Tour last year, which brought attention to the critical work hunters and anglers do to create, conserve, and restore wildlife habitat through volunteer on-the-ground events/workdays. These events provided an opportunity for over 200 participants to volunteer on USFS land and bring positive change to local deer or habitat management issues. Workday tasks included implementing 10 acres of aspen restoration on Idaho Panhandle National Forest, 35 acres of tree and food plot planting on the National Forests of Mississippi, as well as collecting over 700 pounds of white oak acorns for native reforestation on Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky.