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PENNSYLVANIA – Thirty-three years ago, a few dedicated turkey hunters gathered at State College, Pennsylvania, and formed the Keystone State’s first chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation to promote wild turkey hunting and management.

Now the state chapter is being honored by Field and Stream magazine with a prestigious “Heroes of Conservation Award” in the November 2008 issue.

Since 1985 more than $4.6 million has been raised and spent by NWTF’s Pennsylvania chapters on projects within the state, including more than $2.3 million improving wildlife habitat and more than $306,000 helping purchase 25,094 acres of land and conservation easements to preserve wildlife habitat and provide additional hunting areas.

“There was a time that there weren’t turkeys in Pennsylvania,” Jon Pries, NWTF’s Pennsylvania State Chapter president told Field and Stream. “We don’t have that problem anymore.”

At the time the chapter was formed, wild turkey restoration efforts in Pennsylvania consisted primarily of releasing farm-raised birds into the wild.

“However, these birds lacked the survival instincts of wild birds and very few survived,” said Pries. “Then we got smart and started working with the trap-and-transfer method to restore the birds. The state’s population has come a long way since the chapter was formed in 1975.”

The new NWTF chapter promoted the trap-and-transfer method of turkey restoration – capturing wild turkeys with nets and moving them to other locations – that was successfully repopulating other states across the nation.

In 1976, the chapter’s efforts paid off when the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and the NWTF partnered to relocate wild turkeys into areas with few or no turkeys. The partnership was a success as Pennsylvania’s wild turkey population stands at more than 400,000 birds today.

But the chapter’s accomplishments didn’t stop at helping repopulate the state with wild turkeys. Like many grandfathers in Pennsylvania, Ron Fretts wasn’t able to take his grandsons hunting because, until recently, it was illegal.

For that reason, Fretts, a member of the NWTF’s National Board of Directors, decided to do something about it. What started as a family affair ended up changing youth hunting legislation in the Keystone State and 26 other states.

Fretts organized 12 other concerned citizens from sportsmen’s organizations across the state and formed the Mentored Youth Hunting Committee in 2004. The committee gained support from the NWTF, an organization that has led the charge against youth hunting restrictions across the nation. Joining the NWTF on the quest for the approval of a mentored youth hunting program were the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

The three organizations brought to the table tangible research evidence regarding youth hunting through the Families Afield initiative. Drawing on the Families Afield concept, which aims to remove barriers for youth and novice adult hunters across the nation, the organizations joined forces to move legislation through the system.

Families Afield uses data from the Youth Hunting Report to help eliminate youth hunting barriers across the nation. The Youth Hunting Report, written by Silvertip Productions, USSA and Southwick Associates Inc., found that some states experience better recruitment and retention of new hunters than others. They do so by permitting parents to decide when their sons and daughters are ready to hunt, and allow potential hunters to try hunting under the watchful eye of a mentor before completing a hunter education course.

Thanks to the efforts of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the NWTF, a new mentor license program has been put into place, which allows young and novice hunters in Pennsylvania to turkey hunt with an adult mentor before completing a hunter education course.

Pennsylvania’s mentor hunting license allows licensed adults over the age of 21 to take youth under the age of 12 hunting for groundhogs, spring gobblers and antlered deer before completion of a hunter education course. Before the young hunter becomes fully licensed, he or she is required to complete a hunter education course.

As barriers to hunting are struck down in state capitals nationwide, a new generation is discovering America’s time-honored hunting tradition. To date, 27 states have passed laws as a result of Families Afield.

Across the country, more than 131,000 new hunters have taken to the field thanks to laws that remove barriers to youth hunting. In addition, a new research report from Mile Creek Communications shows that many states that have introduced apprentice license programs have shown sharp increases in youth license sales, from 10 percent to 111 percent.

Now, the Pennsylvania State Chapter and the PGC have made plans to ensure the future of Pennsylvania’s wild turkey population through the NWTF’s Pennsylvania Wild Turkey Strategic Plan.

The Pennsylvania plan lays out the state chapter’s goals for habitat enhancement, strategies for improving hunter safety education and awareness, plans for improving hunter access and supporting NWTF’s outreach programs.

“This conservation victory has allowed countless Pennsylvanians to pass on the turkey hunting tradition to generations of new hunters,” said Bob Eriksen, NWTF’s regional biologist in Pennsylvania. “However, our members believe it is critically important to look toward the future of North America’s greatest game bird and work to ensure that future is bright. Our chapter is dedicated to doing just that through the NWTF’s Pennsylvania Wild Turkey Strategic Plan.”

The Pennsylvania plan is part of the larger North American Wild Turkey Management Plan, a compilation of objectives covering the United States, all Canadian provinces home to wild turkeys and selected areas of Mexico.
Projects have been completed on:

* Allegheny National Forest
* Archbald Pothole State Park
* Bald Eagle State Forest
* Black Moshannon State Park
* Buchanan State Forest
* Bunker Hill Public Area
* Codorus State Park
* Delaware State Forest
* Erie State Forest
* Forbes State Forest
* Gallitzin State Forest
* Gouldsboro State Park
* Hemlock Hollow Public Recreation Area
* Hickory Run State Park
* Hillman State Park
* Hills Creek State Park
* acobsburg State Park
* Kettle Creek State Park
* ackawana State Forest
* Leonard Harrison State Park
* Linn Runn State Park
* Locust Lake State Park
* Lyman Run State Park
* Michaux State Forest
* MK Goddard State Park
* Moraine State Park
* Moshannon State Forest
* Mount Pisgah State Park
* Nesopeck State Park
* Poe Valley State Park
* Prince Gallitzin State Park
* Raystown Lake Management Area
* Rocky Ridge State Park
* Ryerson Station State Park
* Salt Spring State Park
* Shenango River Lake
* Spring Valley Park
* Sproul State Forest
* Susquehanna State Forest
* Tiadaghton State Forest
* Tioga State Forest
* Yellow Creek State Park
* Weiser State Forest
* Various State Game Lands