navigating co-op goals
A ROAD MAP FOR SUCCESS
PHOTO / MICHIGAN UNITED CONSERVATION COOPERATIVES
"Your single goal becomes part of the roadmap to the greater good of modern wildlife management. Success within a cooperative is a success for everyone involved, and cooperative success represents the power of collaboration."
MORGAN jennings / CO-OP SPECIALIST
The initial start-up process of a cooperative can determine its long-term success based on communication and organization. Previously, we talked about how to determine if a wildlife cooperative is right for you. A large part of making this decision is deciding if your goals align with the purpose of the cooperative. That means as a landowner and/or hunter you have to know what your goals are.
When it comes to management, our goals as outdoor enthusiasts are often interconnected. Our responsibility as conservation stewards is to set aside what we want (personal aspirations) and focus on any weakness on our property, and others’, first that would prevent us from meeting our goals. This approach aligns with landscape level management – the pulse of cooperatives.
Today, we will discuss how to set, prioritize, and navigate goals in terms of wildlife management and a cooperative. To do this we must think about goals as a road map: to get to point D, we must first complete A, B, and C. There will be examples of this later.
Determining Personal Goals
Even the most experienced landowner or hunter can wonder where to start with setting goals because of the many factors that play a role in accomplishing them. Step one is to forget all of those limiting factors. When working with people on property planning the first question I ask is, “What do you want to accomplish if money, time, and other outside influences had no effect on you?” or, “What does your dream property look like?”
Before you can make this a reality, you must first investigate all of the factors that contribute. Below is a list that affects the growth of mature whitetails with their corresponding roadmap points.
A – Population density
This most often refers to the doe population density in an area. It is no secret that many unmanaged properties experience a buck to doe ratio that is heavily skewed towards does. It should be closer to equal. Land managers can use data-gathering techniques such as observation surveys and trail camera surveys to record information on population estimates. Mangers can then use this data to determine if doe harvest should be increased, decreased, or maintained.
B – Habitat
Habitat quantity and quality is also an indication of population density. Deer browse surveys are used by managers to determine if the current available habitat is supportive of the deer herd size. If an area is heavily browsed with little to no regeneration, it suggests that the current habitat is not adequate for the number of deer on the landscape and the opposite can also be true.
This information can be used two ways. If over-browsing is a concern, increasing doe harvest is a good place to start. Relieving pressure on the landscape can allow native vegetation to regenerate and offer wildlife more nutritious, year-long food.
Deer browse surveys can also help you determine what habitat projects would improve the property to improve the quality and quantity of food available for wildlife. These projects could include, but are not limited to, forest stand improvement, grass plantings, food plots, tree plantings, and more.
While some of these details can seem overwhelming to new cooperatives or individuals, you do not have to start with surveys to set goals. These are examples of how to be more intentional with goal setting on your individual property – information that will be useful as the cooperative works to achieve its goals. There are resources and professionals available through National Wildlife Cooperative that can help answer questions at this stage.
C – Hunter management
The first cooperative stereotype that is important to address is that a cooperative is not in place to tell other hunters what to do. Cooperatives exist to help like-minded hunters and landowners work collaboratively to improve hunting and habitat on the local landscape.
Cooperatives generally have guidelines in place that work to support the goals that have been agreed upon by members. If the cooperative is properly communicating there should be no misconception of the group’s purpose or any negative pressure placed on members. The idea is to create an atmosphere of friendship and engagement in the outdoors.
It is important to note that to be involved in a cooperative, a person does not have to be concerned with each of these roadmap pieces and the factors of population, habitat, and hunters effect all species, not just our whitetail example. Often times, hunters or landowners come to a meeting with only one of these interests in mind. It’s up to the cooperative to take those interests and navigate them as a unit.
Navigating Cooperative Goals
Initial cooperative meetings take place to introduce potential cooperative members and to address all potential goals. This is true no matter what the species focus is. Based on past experience, I have found that it is most comfortable for potential members to write their top three to five goals on a piece of paper. The list of goals is then transferred to a large list to be condensed. This exercise helps people visualize what their neighbors are interested in, find common ground with others in the room, and begins the process of navigating cooperative goals.
To condense the list, take the top five most popular goals. Don’t throw away the rest; keep them for later. There’s always room for additions and conversations. It is important to make sure every member feels heard.
The top five goals should then be prioritized based on its proper ‘roadmap’ position. List each in the order in which they should occur. As another example, you can’t decide how many does to harvest if you don’t have any information about the current population density on the landscape. This gives you an excellent starting point and a first item on the to-do list for the cooperative: work together to conduct an observation, trail camera, and/or browse survey to determine the population on a landscape level.
Most of the time cooperatives goals manifest naturally from the creation of this list. Talk about each one; they all affect local hunting. Be open to questions; people need to feel confident in choosing if a cooperative is right for them. Address any concerns; private land hunting has an individual mindset.
The most successful cooperatives work transparently among members and work with their goals in mind all year. That is the consistency that brings positive change to landscape level management. Goals can, and should, shift as a cooperative matures. This might mean change because the group has successfully met a goal, or it could be because the desired results are not being accomplished. A cooperative that works together will be able to navigate personal and wholistic goals most effectively.
Navigating cooperative goals is a worthwhile commitment and rewarding effort. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can’t make a difference. Your single goal becomes part of the roadmap to the greater good of modern wildlife management. Success within a cooperative is a success for everyone involved, and cooperative success represents the power of collaboration. Hunters working cooperatively with other hunters and landowners are the driving force behind creating a lasting impact in the woods and fields – a legacy that sportsmen and women can be proud to teach their children and invite someone new to enjoy. Cooperatives start with a goal. Cooperatives start with you.
About the Author:
Soil Conservationist / Former Wildlife Cooperative Specialist, MUCC
Morgan Jennings , Michigan
This might seem like a strange place to start because, in reality, we all face those limiting factors. Answering this question alleviates the tendency to minimize our efforts because we have already told ourselves that we can’t. Laying out every potential is like having all of the stops along your roadmap in front of you, it’s just a matter of organizing them.
We will use deer as an example because it is most familiarized game animal. Hunters that are interested in managing for deer generally have one overarching goal in mind – to shoot a mature whitetail. There’s no doubt that harvesting an animal of this caliber is exciting but underneath the surface there is more to the story. Deer don’t grow to this standard without a healthy ecosystem to support it. Herd sizes and health, habitat, and hunter collaboration all make up that ecosystem and play their own significant role. You may have heard of those factors before in the Quality Deer Management Association’s (QDMA’S) four cornerstones: herd management, herd monitoring, habitat management, and hunter management. Each are an integral part of your roadmap if your goal is to support the growth of a mature deer.