“With 80% of Californians now living in cities and far fewer than 1% purchasing hunting licenses, in many ways our public has fallen out of touch with our state’s rich and diverse wildlife, our proud hunting heritage, and its integral role in wildlife conservation.”
Story By- Bill Gaines
2016 MARKED THE 20TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE CALIFORNIA DEER ASSOCIATION (CDA) – a “young” conservation organization by many standards. Yet, when one considers what CDA has accomplished over the past two decades, our organization is mature far beyond its years.
CDA was established in 1996 by a few concerned sportsmen that wanted to make a positive difference for California’s deer herds and other wildlife. To ensure that member dollars were most effectively spent, CDA’s founding fathers carefully established criteria that required that no less than 75% of net funding raised went “on-the-ground” in California for habitat, research, land acquisition, conservation easements, equipment and education.
Those who care about deer would soon notice the positive change CDA was making, and the organization quickly grew in terms of credibility, members and funding. Twenty short years later, CDA has put millions of dollars on the ground to protect and promote deer populations and deer hunting in our state.
But like our deer and their habitats, California has also changed in many other ways over the past two decades. Our cities have grown and our population has swelled to over 37 million. As California has continued its shift from a rural to an urban state, we have also witnessed a drastic change away from our time-honored outdoor traditions. Although California’s population has swelled by nearly 25% since CDA was established, hunting license sales have dropped by 20% to roughly 275,000.
With 80% of Californians now living in cities and far fewer than 1% purchasing hunting licenses, in many ways our public has fallen out of touch with our state’s rich and diverse wildlife, our proud hunting heritage, and its integral role in wildlife conservation.
Making matters worse, many of the elected officials and others who shape California’s policy and direction share the same priorities and perceptions of the public they represent. The result being that the challenges and issues CDA must face today to successfully achieve our mission of promoting wildlife, deer populations and hunting in our state has changed substantially since our organization was created in 1996.
Today, many wildlife management decisions in California are no longer driven, as they should be, simply and solely by what the best available science dictates be done. Rather, many are now made in political forums, and often in response to the changing perceptions and opinions of California’s increasingly urban public. Twenty years ago, even the most capable prognosticator could not have envisioned the many challenges wildlife managers, deer hunters, and deer themselves would face today. Who would have thought that they would remove the word “Game” from the name of our state’s top resource agency and replace it with “Wildlife”? Few would have predicted that California would enact a law that will soon prohibit you from using traditional lead ammunition for hunting deer – or hunting anything, for that matter – in our state. No one foresaw the loss of hunting opportunity that we would suffer from the closure of many public lands, or the mass locking of gates on roads that lead into our state’s vast public open spaces and deer habitats. Nor did anyone truly predict the magnitude of the attack California’s political leaders would launch against our gun rights, including many of our standard sporting arms and their munitions.
As if the continued loss of habitat to urban sprawl wasn’t enough, no one could have forecast the increased challenges deer themselves must now face. Only a handful would have guessed that the most effective tool for managing bear populations, hunting them with hounds, would soon be outlawed – resulting in historically high bear populations and corresponding record bear predation on deer. Certainly, not a single soul would have guessed that, in addition to mountain lions and unprecedented bear numbers, California’s deer would also face a brand new apex predator – the gray wolf.
Finally, few foresaw the unprecedented role that well organized and funded animal-rights activists and anti-hunting groups would assume in the halls of our State Capitol, in front of our Fish and Game Commission and beyond.
But all is far from bleak – in fact, the future is amazingly bright. With the same vision that led our founders to establish guiding principles that paved the way for our initial success, CDA has now become effectively engaged in each of the political forums where important wildlife decisions are being made. Although the playing field is certainly more difficult, never has CDA been better positioned to drive positive change for deer populations and deer hunting in our state.
Today, California Deer Association’s credibility and relationship with California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) leadership is stronger than ever before. When CDA has a concern that needs to be discussed with DFW, we have unprecedented access to DFW top staff to have our voice heard. Laws that CDA recently helped sponsor and pass have, and for the first time, not only given us a seat at the table with DFW in determining how and where your big game tag dollars are being spent, but also allow us to bring our own habitat and research projects forward for consideration and possible state cost-share funding. Whether it be proposed annual deer tag allocations, or any other deer-related regulation, DFW takes time to proactively gather CDA’s thoughts and concerns before finalizing their recommendation to the Fish and Game Commission. When the first gray wolf set foot in California, DFW appointed CDA to the advisory committee to help craft our state’s first Wolf Management Plan. Inshort, CDA is more actively involved than ever in helping DFW determine administrative decisions which impact California’s deer and deer hunters.
On the regulatory front, CDA is equally respected and well positioned. CDA has now taken great care to establish credibility and critically important close working relationships with the appointed members of the Fish and Game Commission and their staff. When the need arises, CDA can quickly meet directly with Commissioners and/or staff to discuss our concerns before a topic is heard at a Commission hearing. When the public hearings do take place, CDA is always present, and – although room is typically cluttered with animal-rights interests – CDA’s concerns are received with the highest regard when we step to the podium. When the Commission is considering possible changes to any regulations which may impact deer and other big game, they reach out to CDA. When the Commission established a small select group to evaluate possible changes to predator management policy, CDA’s representative was one of the first appointed to the group. Simply put, CDA’s ability to positively drive the Fish and Game Commission decisions on regulations that impact deer and deer hunting has never been better.
Finally, when it comes to the California State Legislature, CDA has never been more engaged. CDA is now not only on the front lines of battles to defeat negative bills that may be brought forward but also positioned to proactively sponsor beneficial legislation which promotes deer, their habitats, and our hunting heritage. CDA has never been better equipped to impact state budget decisions and the state funding made available for wildlife habitat and research projects. CDA has also helped build our State Legislature’s Outdoor Sporting Caucus – an assemblage of State Legislators who support our outdoor traditions – to one of the largest Caucuses at our State Capitol, and is working with them to educate other Legislators on the significant benefit hunters and hunting provides to California’s economy and the conservation of all wildlife species.
Although California has changed in many ways in the 20 years since the California Deer Association was founded, CDA has changed with it… and for the better! Today, the challenges may be greater than ever anticipated, but CDA has never been stronger, better prepared and better positioned to deliver on our commitment to our members to enhance the health of California’s deer herds and protect our hunting tradition for generations to come. With your continued support, we look forward to painting a very bright future for California’s deer and deer hunters for generations to come.