Conservation News

Conservation Initiative and Fundraising Event to Benefit Forest Health in Big Sky Country

EDGEFIELD, S.C. — Forests across Montana and the West are experiencing declining health due to many factors — fire suppression, severe drought, a warming climate, insect infestation and disease — that have created tinderbox conditions. The new collaborative Big Sky Forestry Initiative, co-developed by the National Wild Turkey Federation and the USDA Forest Service, will help bring partners and funding together to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, enhance wildlife habitat, secure clean water, maintain access and recreational opportunities and prepare communities on the wildland interface for wildfire.

The NWTF has a long relationship with the Forest Service and recognizes the importance of forest restoration for wild turkeys, other wildlife and our communities and outdoor lifestyle. In just the last 10 years, the NWTF has conserved or enhanced over 4.4 million acres of wildlife habitat. The Big Sky Forestry Initiative and kickoff fundraising event will focus on forest restoration specifically in Montana.

“It’s a trifold effort,” said Elizabeth Dowling, NWTF director of development in the West. “The NWTF wants to put money, attention and human resources to work in Montana.”

To help raise funding for the Big Sky Forestry Initiative, the NWTF is planning a kickoff event in Bozeman, Montana, in summer 2023 to raise funding and show the commitment of Montanans to healthy forests.

“Details are forthcoming, but rest assured our Big Sky kickoff event is going to be one for the books,” said Jason Tarwater, NWTF regional director for Montana. “[This will be] a party in the name of conserving Montana’s incredible natural resources, reducing catastrophic wildfire and restoring landscapes with local partners.”

Forests across Montana were historically shaped by fire. Catastrophic and uncharacteristic wildfires, however, have drastically different outcomes.

Today’s fires are driven by an accumulation of fuels resulting from more than 100 years of fire suppression. Our warmer, drier climate compounds that with severe drought, insects and disease, resulting in larger, more severe wildfires that convert habitat, reduce access to public land and affect our Western lifestyle.

“Wildfires today start earlier and end later in the year,” said Patt Dorsey, NWTF director of conservation operations in the West. “They are more frequent, more severe and larger in size. These uncharacteristic wildfires are often devastating communities, wildlife habitat, watershed health and overall ecological balance.

“In addition to funding, the USFS needs partners that can work with local communities and help implement projects,” Dorsey added. “The NWTF is a local, membership-based organization with professional staff in Montana. We are ready to help the USFS, our long-time partner, to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration.”

The NWTF’s four values include wildlife habitat, water supplies, resilient communities and accessible recreation.

“We look for projects that have shared values, multiple benefits and where we can engage multiple partners,” Dowling explained.

Projects that may receive funding and resources include the Bozeman Municipal Watershed Project, the Elkhorns Cooperative Management Area and other wildlife management areas in the Bitterroot Valley region.

The Hyalite and Bozeman Creek watersheds are an important water supply for one of the fastest-growing cities in the state and host over 500,000 visitors annually. The Elkhorns Cooperative Management Area is one of Montana’s most popular hunting areas. The Bitterroot region includes six of Montana’s top 10 communities for wildfire risk, making it a high priority for protecting people, property, infrastructure, wildlife and other resources.

“We are proud to continue our partnership with the Forest Service and involve all who care deeply about Montana’s rich natural resources and outdoor traditions in the shared stewardship model of conservation,” Dorsey said. “It takes the entire village.”

To find out more about the kickoff fundraising event and to see how you can contribute to the Big Sky Forestry Initiative as a partner, donor or sponsor, contact Jason Tarwater at jtarwater@nwtf.net or (785) 221-6515 or Elizabeth Dowling at edowling@nwtf.net.

Register Now for the BSFI’s Kickoff Fundraiser

About the National Wild Turkey Federation

When the National Wild Turkey Federation was founded in 1973, there were about 1.3 million wild turkeys in North America. After decades of work, that number hit a historic high of almost 7 million turkeys. To succeed, the NWTF stood behind science-based conservation and hunters’ rights. Today, the NWTF is focused on the future of hunting and conservation through its Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative. Since 2012, this 10-year initiative has already eclipsed goals of conserving or enhancing more than 4 million acres of essential wildlife habitat, recruiting or retaining more than 1.5 million hunters and opening access to more than 500,000 acres for hunting and other recreation opportunities. This critical work will continue to impact wildlife habitat and our great outdoors in the final year of the initiative.

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