By: Hunter Pruitt / Co-op Specialist
Our goal at National Wildlife Cooperative is to document and aid growth of wildlife cooperatives across the United States - Cooperatives focused on any form of wildlife or habitat management.
National Wildlife Cooperative: The Missing Link
In 2008, at the age of 12, I started my first Quality Deer Management (QDM) Cooperative. Our family farm was only 30-acres, and at the time we didn't see many mature whitetails. After scouring the internet for every resource I could, and obtaining some guidance from the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), I set out to talk to my neighbors about their deer management goals. Slowly, it grew, one neighbor, one year at a time. By 2019, a decade later, this cooperative spanned 1200 acres, and encompassed 10 properties used by hunters, families, and even hunting clubs.
Simultaneously, as a masters student at the University of Georgia, I conducted research for the QDMA and United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). This research ignited my interest in private landowner wildlife cooperatives. Over the course of two years (2016-2018), I surveyed and sampled over 45 Deer Management Cooperatives (DMCs) in five states (Georgia, Missouri, Michigan, New York, and Texas), that spanned over 600k acres that comprised over 2,800 hunter/members.
During this research, we discovered one of the most glaring problems with private landowner cooperatives across the national landscape: NO national coordination, NO national database, and a lack of national guidance on how to form and maintain co-ops. These cooperatives are local landowners working off handshake agreements for the betterment of wildlife management on their property. They can go undetected, unformalized, and under appreciated by the wildlife conservation community for decades. Conservation organizations urge their members to form "co-ops" to accomplish management goals, but they provide minimal guidance after the initial: "Give it a go! See if it helps." This guidance then falls on the co-op leaders who work locally and independently, constantly trying to keep the group engaged.
I can't tell you how many times I would call co-op leaders just for them to say, "Thank you for doing this research, thank you for highlighting what we are doing", followed by, "My buddy has a co-op down the road, here is his contact info. He would love to be involved." To my surprise, no one (beside this co-op leader) knew about the existence of this other co-op -- not the state wildlife agencies (with a few exceptions), not the USFWS, and not even the conservation organizations that tout private landowner co-ops as a key tool in the future of wildlife management and landscape conservation.
Simply, that is why I helped spearhead the National Wildlife Cooperative project. To provide a platform for co-op leaders to use for cooperative centric articles, advice, and a place to store their co-op data: maps, membership lists, and wildlife data. This is a platform built by a co-op member, for the co-op member, to highlight and promote co-ops. A place that provides cooperatives across the U.S. an information, guidance, and conservation data hub on a co-op by co-op basis. To quantify what hunters, habitat managers, and wildlife enthusiasts are providing for wildlife through voluntary landowner conservation partnerships.
We look forward to this journey, working with industry partners to provide co-op centric info, professional articles by the most respected names in "co-ops" and wildlife habitat to provide a quality platform for all co-ops (deer, turkey, quail, pollinators, etc.). This joint project will allow for co-ops to grow, connect, and aid national conservation efforts!
About the Author:
Co-op Specialist / National Wildlife Cooperative