The NWTF’s Annual Convention and Sport Show in Nashville is the perfect kickoff to the spring turkey season, and that is especially true for Florida, the first of 49 states to open up their spring turkey season. (Learn more about 2023 seasons).
And while Floridians and non-residents alike are gearing up to hunt some of the best turkey hunting available in the country, it is the perfect time to reflect on a turkey conservation program in the Sunshine State that makes it all possible.
Since the Wild Turkey Cost Share Program began in 1994, it has contributed over $6 million to habitat management projects and is estimated to contribute over $2.2 million to our favorite gamebird in 2023. What’s more, the program is driven by turkey hunters.
“Turkey hunters are an important part of the Cost Share program,” said Buddy Welch, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wild turkey management program coordinator. “The money generated from the sale of turkey permits, which are required to hunt wild turkeys in Florida (unless exempt), allows the FWC to make significant contributions to the program each year.”
In addition to the contribution by turkey hunters and FWC, the NWTF Florida State Chapter, the Florida Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida pool their funds together to fund numerous public-land projects across the state every year. Projects directly benefit wild turkeys but also improve overall ecosystem health.
Projects are conducted on wildlife management areas, state forests, water management district lands, national forests and national wildlife refuges. They include a variety of forest management practices – including prescribed fire, mowing, invasive species treatment and creating wildlife openings, among others – that mimic natural disturbances and creates the early successional habitat in which wild turkeys and many other species thrive.
Early successional habitats are areas with vigorously growing grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees that provide excellent food and cover for wild turkeys and many other species.
“We are proud of the well-oiled machine the Wild Turkey Cost-Share Program has become,” said Eddie Hatch, NWTF Florida State Chapter president. “When multiple partners are deeply invested in a shared vision, the results are extraordinary. Our contributions to all these great projects would not be possible without our Florida members who participate in our banquets and help us raise funds in the name of conservation. We look forward to seeing all the work unfold throughout the year.”
In the program’s first year, back in 1994, $15,000 was available to fund six habitat projects. For 2023, the hunter-driven program has grown to deliver over $2 million to 28 conservation projects and is projected to provide over $2 million annually to conservation projects for future years.
“We have definitely created something special for the wild turkey in Florida,” said Ricky Lackey, NWTF district biologist for Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. “Since just 2012, we have conserved over 824,000 acres of wild turkey habitat in Florida. This mechanism of delivering conservation between multiple partners should stand as an example for states looking to amplify their wild turkey habitat conservation delivery. It really takes the whole team to make it work.”
In addition to the 28 Wild Turkey Cost-Share Program projects occurring this year, the NWTF Florida State Chapter helped fund new Osceola research conducted by FWC and the University of Florida. Learn more about the new research project here.