by Karen Mehall Phillips - Saturday, June 29, 2019
Fairfax, Va.—Underscoring the NRA’s $3 million investment in hunting’s future in creating the most comprehensive, free online hunter education program nationwide, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced state wildlife agencies now may claim a dollar value of the NRA’s Free Online Hunter Education Course as in-kind match dollars to access federal Pittman-Robertson (P-R) grant funds. The move marks a major win for the NRA and state wildlife agencies, which rely on the P-R dollars administered by the USFWS’ Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Division for their fish and wildlife conservation programs, and is a giant step forward in bolstering states’ hunter recruitment efforts and the national NRA-backed R3 movement (Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation).
The new USFWS policy comes after a lengthy internal review of a 2017 NRA proposal requesting that the USFWS Joint Federal-State Task Force on Federal Assistance Policy consider the free course as an in-kind third-party contribution. In permitting this universally applicable match under the U.S. Department of The Interior’s Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards, the USFWS Solicitor’s Office declared a state’s match for a Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) grant indeed may be in the form of cash or an in-kind third-party contribution based on its fair market value (FMV)—providing it is not derived from another federal grant program or has not been counted as a match for another federal grant. In the case of the NRA course, the grantee seeking the in-kind match may cite the cost of commercially available courses as FMV documentation.
“Thanks to the USFWS policy, state agencies now benefit from the course by accruing match dollars while American hunters, and their families, can enjoy the best online hunter education for FREE,” said Peter Churchbourne, a director with the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum, who was instrumental in getting the USFWS to embrace the NRA course. “This course is one of the biggest things the NRA has ever done for hunting,” he continued. “Current for-profit online courses offered by the state through third-party vendors do not qualify for even one in-kind match dollar because hunters are charged for the course. But the NRA course is free so each time a hunter completes it, the course’s value can be used by the state agency to apply for their P-R funds. It’s a WIN-WIN for everyone!”
“This course is one of the biggest things the NRA has ever done for hunting."
—Peter Churchbourne, a director with NRA Hunters' Leadership ForumLaunched in 2017 in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC), the free NRA Online Hunter Education Course is also offered in Connecticut, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and West Virginia. On July 1, the NRA will welcome Kentucky to the mix for a total of eight participating states. The NRA’s goal is to have the program available in all 50 states, making hunter education universally free of charge.
As the organization that spearheaded America’s first hunter safety course in 1949, offering free online hunter education was the NRA’s next step. The program’s timing is critical based on recent national surveys showing declines in hunter numbers. To help reverse this trend, NRA Hunter Services began assessing the hunter education landscape in 2015. It found most programs were not engaging, were available on limited dates and, for many hunters were costly. A hunter who missed a free state-run course offered by volunteer hunter instructors had to pay for courses offered by for-profit businesses costing up to $29.99, often posing a barrier to hunter recruitment for families introducing multiple children to hunting. The solution: Develop an NRA online course, offer it for free and tailor it to meet every state’s requirements for adoption in all 50 states.
Using curriculum guidelines established by the International Hunter Education Association, the course consists of a 15-chapter online sequence featuring the science of Instructional Design. Each chapter ends with a 10- to 20-question assessment to reinforce the material. Upon completion, which takes 7.5 hours, students take a 60-question test that evaluates their overall course knowledge. State wildlife agencies often require a “field day” to test firearm and other competencies to complete state requirements for final certification.
“It was a game changer both financially and in terms of aiding hunter recruitment when we made the strategic move to be the first state agency to partner with the NRA in launching its free online hunter education program,” said Bill Cline, hunter safety and public shooting range section leader for the Florida FWCC. “In addition, the NRA course ensures we are providing new hunters with the best, most comprehensive instruction available that is not only free but convenient and accessible to all hunters and their families.”
“In Oklahoma, we don't want hunters to have to pay for hunter education so in providing the best-quality state-run course, we were looking to spend about $30,000 to upgrade our program,” added Lance Meek, senior information and education specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife. “The free NRA online course immediately put more money in my agency's pocket by saving us the cost of maintaining our own hunter education course. The fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it now qualifies for P-R match dollars frees up license money, allowing us to provide other services to our hunters.”
The course goes far to support the R3 movement to engage new and lapsed hunters while boosting hunter funding for state wildlife agencies that rely on hunters’ dollars to advance vital wildlife conservation goals. “This course is just another example of the dedication the NRA has to the American hunter and adds to the already long list of programs the association produces for the benefit of sportsmen, sportswomen and the industry as a whole.”
About the NRA: When the NRA was chartered in 1871, a key objective was to promote hunter safety and to defend hunting as a shooting sport and necessary method of fostering the conservation of our renewable wildlife resources. Today the NRA is the largest organization of hunters with 3.5-million-plus hunters in its 5.2 million membership ranks. As America’s hunter safety and education leader, it recognizes that with our collective hunting rights come responsibility: to be safe, skilled and ethical; to respect wild game, the landowner, fellow hunters and the general public; and to make sure the next generation of hunters has the tools it needs to carry the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation into the future.
Follow NRA Hunters' Leadership Forum on Twitter @HuntersLead.
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