by Anna Mitterling, Wildlife Cooperative Coordinator, MUCC
Wildlife cooperatives provide great opportunities for shaping what management looks like over a landscape. These groups consist of landowners and hunters who share a common interest in surrounding wildlife habitat and harvest management. While the early stages of cooperative development take a lot of time and energy, it is an investment many find worthwhile.
Cooperative success can be defined in many different ways. Some groups provide great educational opportunities, while others provide exceptional experiences for new youth hunters. Others may boast of large bucks being harvested off their properties, while another is able to donate many pounds of venison to soup kitchens each year. One cooperative may be a social hub of the hunting community, while another is simply a gathering for a few locals. Regardless of the type of success the group has, each one has purpose and can take pride on key aspects of their group.
When starting a cooperative, it is important to find a few things that a group of people can rally around. For many deer cooperatives in southern Michigan, the focus points are social gatherings, antlers, and chili. For pheasant cooperatives, the focus tends to be youth events and habitat projects. In your area, the rally points could look much different. This is why it is important to talk to neighbors to find out what goals and objectives would be of interest to potential members.
Many individuals find the motivation to start a cooperative because they would like to see bigger deer on their property, and they know that the only way this will happen is to engage neighbors, build trust, and work to allow for bigger deer to develop. Many cooperatives are seeing success in this area. It typically takes 5-6 years until after the cooperative has developed until they see larger deer, and 3-4 until you see well established grasslands. In the meantime, in addition to changing how deer are managed on the properties, relationships and interactions between the neighbors may have shifted as well.
Trust and relationships are key to the success of a cooperative. This is why it is so important to seek out what goals your neighbors have in starting a cooperative, and incorporating those along with any goals you may have as a cooperative leader. Know that time, relationship and trust-building, and conversations about management practices are the keys to bringing change to your area. Setting lofty goals can scare off potential members who may come around if goals are set lower early on.
Write down what your goals are. Talk to some neighbors, find out what their goals would look like. Are the goals similar? If not, find out where those common areas are, and be sure to focus there. If you are starting a cooperative, and you are struggling with this, please reach out. I am more than happy to help you think through a strategy for reaching your neighbors and working towards your goals, as well as your neighbors. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 517-346-6454.