The Quality Deer Management Association is thinking beyond its namesake species .
In an experiment involving landscapescale wildlife habitat management, the nonprofit QDMA and three refuges are teaming with neighboring landowners to build a new conservation coalition.
The refugesWashita and Deep Fork in Oklahoma and Shiawassee in Michiganare helping QDMA set up privatepublic cooperatives, which met for the first time this fall. The goal is for landowners, refuge staff members, state biologists and QDMA experts to share ideas and information to conserve wildlife on swaths of land near refuges.
QDMA focuses primarily on sustainable management of whitetailed deer, but QDMA biologist Kip Adams says cooperative members will decide which wildlife species to protectperhaps waterfowl, songbirds or native species.
Deer are generalists, says Adams, who leads the initiative.Ninety percent of the time, if you create good deer habitat youre creating good habitat for other species.
At the first meeting near Washita National Wildlife Refuge, participants discussed managing land for quail and deer, according to refuge manager Amber Zimmerman, who is eager to take part in the experiment.
First and foremost, we cooperate with others, she says. Thats right there in our mission statement. And everyone is realizing that to have a big impact you have to reach beyond your borders and manage on a landscape scale.
Nine private landowners attended that meeting. Their holdings and the refuges 8,075 acres make a local conservation footprint of about 20,000 acres.
People came in a bit leery, Zimmerman says, but they warmed to the concept when they saw that QDMA, not the federal government, is taking the leadand nobody is trying to tell them what to do with their land.
Adams says biologists will encourage landowners to follow sciencebased management but wont ask them to sign any agreements.
Reputation Is a Plus
Similarly, the refuges are very important partners, [but] the Fish and Wildlife Service isnt driving this, he says. QDMA conducts landowner outreach; meetings are on private property; and most management suggestions will come from QDMA or state biologists.
Shiawassee Refuge biologist Michelle VanderHaar, the Michigan refuges liaison to the cooperative, thinks QDMAs reputation among deer hunters is a plus.
QDMA will get their attention, she said before the local cooperatives first meeting in October. People in Michigan follow them closely.
Darrin Unruh, Deep Fork Refuge manager, likes the cooperatives potential to strengthen community ties. Founded in 1993, Deep Fork is a waterfowl refuge with many inholdersprivate landowners within the refuge boundary.
For a refuge that has a checkerboard ownership, its really important to communicate with the neighbors, Unruh says. The cooperative will be an educational process for inholders and should strengthen the relationship.
The QDMA cooperative approach was fieldtested at Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee Refuge in Mississippi, where it had a short but useful life, say Adams and Larry Williams, a former Noxubee deputy refuge manager.
Williams, who now heads the South Florida Ecological Services Office, left the Noxubee Refuge by the time the cooperative was launched in 2005 but kept track of its work. Initially, he says, the cooperative included all surrounding landowners. After a few years, though, participants lost a sense of urgency, and the cooperative waned. This time, Williams and Adams say, the refuges are signing on for the long haul .
Williams hopes the cooperatives lead to a powerful nationwide partnership with QDMA, similar to the Services relationship with Ducks Unlimited.
Roughly 10 million acres of refuge land is in whitetailed deer habitat, and U.S. deer hunters far outnumber waterfowl hunters, Williams says, so its an important species for America and an important species for refuges.
Heather Dewar is a writereditor in the Refuge System Branch of Communications.