Public Lands Conservation Improving access and habitat on our public lands

The NDA launched a national initiative in 2021 entitled Improving Access, Habitat and Deer Hunting on Public Lands that addresses landscape-level access and forest health issues nationally. This initiative has a reach goal to improve 1 million acres of public land by 2026.

Declines in deer hunter numbers, habitat quality and access can each have significant negative impacts on wildlife conservation; but, sometimes, being innovative and applying the proverbial lemons-to-lemonade strategy can be just the ingredients needed to make a difference. NDA decided to tackle all three issues collectively in this campaign for deer, deer hunters and deer enthusiasts far and wide.

The Problems on Public Hunting Land

Our long-time members and supporters recognize the virtues we extoll about the importance of managing private land for deer; after all, far more deer are hunted, killed, and managed annually on private versus public land. It’s part of our beginnings and continues to be a pillar of NDA’s education and outreach efforts. However, research shows that groups who hunt mostly on public land tend to be younger, reside in urban or suburban areas, have a higher education, and generally more closely fit the description of our in-person, food-focused hunter recruitment program participants, which is tailored for adults from non-hunting backgrounds that want to learn to deer hunt.

Human dimension studies also show that public land hunters tend to hunt less compared to those that hunt private land, and one of the main reasons cited is a lack of access. Access is continually listed as a major barrier for new and veteran hunters alike, and a recent national report estimated that there are currently over 16 million acres of public land that outdoor enthusiasts can't effectively use.

Finally, recent trends suggest declining deer, grouse and other game harvests on some federal lands is likely the result of diminishing acreage in active forest management.  Specifically, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has identified that suppression of fire and reduction of timber harvesting activities over time on some of their lands have changed habitat conditions to create denser stands and less early successional communities. Moreover, forest health and biodiversity are more frequently compromised by disease, insects and noxious plants.

So, working to positively impact America’s public lands is one unique way to simultaneously help recruit, retain and reactivate more deer hunters into our ranks, increase access and enhance the health and productivity of our nation’s forests.

How NDA’s Initiative Works

NDA’s team of shared stewardship coordinators works one-on-one with individual federal and/or state agency staff to mutually identify and select proposed projects for completion on public lands across the country. These efforts are guided by federal and state land management objectives and NDA’s conservation priorities listed above – with a shared goal of improving forest health, wildlife habitat, and water quality, as well as to protect communities and reduce wildfire risks. Also, they are always driven by local and regional needs and designed equitably and inclusively to support underserved communities and/or diverse partners.

The primary mechanism for much of this work is through a 20-year agreement that NDA has with the USFS, which provides the framework and authority for NDA to enter into contractual agreements as a conservation partner. Although most projects are occurring on national forests and grasslands, some outreach is happening on other federal or on state lands as well as through our volunteer Branch network.

Every project identifies a specific resource issue, describes how it will be improved, who’s involved and includes a suite of techniques that can be utilized. The improvements vary, but regularly involve various forms of vegetation management; control of noxious and exotic species and the reestablishment of native species; fire abatement strategies and/or prescribed fire treatments; watershed restoration and maintenance; recreational facility management; and road and trail maintenance.

Sometimes these efforts include the sale of commercial forest products as a means to directly fund on-the-ground conservation improvements, and sometime the funding comes from other sources. Fortunately support from Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, as well as private donors, aim to help the NDA accelerate important work under this campaign.

OutdoorFundLogo E1632511479525

Like the NDA, the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The Outdoor Fund encourages more than 200 million Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s customers to round up purchases to support conservation partners and projects that advocate for sportsmen’s rights, connect new audiences to the outdoors, and protect and conserve wildlife habitat across North America, a mission that closely aligns with the NDA’s.

If you would like to help with this critical public lands initiative, no level of support is too small. Please contact us or donate directly to help reach this important conservation goal for all deer enthusiasts.