EDGEFIELD, S.C. – The National Wild Turkey Federation is celebrating a benchmark in the conservation community this year with its 35th Anniversary.
“Our volunteers are dedicated to all aspects of conservation and work every day to preserve our hunting tradition,” said NWTF CEO Rob Keck. “The NWTF’s members certainly have something to be proud of for all their years of dedication and hard work.”
In 1973, the national nonprofit conservation organization was formed to help restore wild turkey populations nationwide.
“Back then, only about 1.3 million wild turkeys existed in North America and wildlife agencies were working diligently to improve those numbers,” said James Earl Kennamer Ph.D., NWTF’s senior vice president for conservation programs. “But they lacked money and a network that would allow them to move birds from one state to the next.”
That’s when the NWTF stepped in and started helping bridge those gaps and building partnerships with state and federal wildlife agencies. Today, through the works of state wildlife agencies and the NWTF’s dedicated grassroots volunteers, more than 7 million wild turkeys can be found in North America.
The formation of the NWTF Technical Committee in 1975 was one of many milestones that helped unify wild turkey biologists in North America and grow wild turkey populations nationwide. The Committee, whose original makeup consisted of wild turkey biologists from 35 states, today consists of representatives from 49 states and Canada who make recommendations to guide the Federation’s management efforts across the country.
As wild turkey populations have grown, so have turkey hunter numbers, and NWTF membership has stayed right in step.
“In 1973, NWTF membership numbers totaled 1,200, but today, the Federation’s conservation-minded heroes have surpassed 550,000 strong,” said Carl Brown, NWTF’s chief operating officer. “Our volunteers share a passion for wildlife conservation and are eager to pass along the hunting tradition.”
Another large milestone for the Federation was its first national Convention and Grand National Calling Championship in 1977. The Federation has come a long way since that first year when 2,000 wild turkey enthusiasts attended — this past year drew more than 40,000 attendees.
“The National Convention and Sport Show, combined with the Wild Turkey Bourbon/NWTF Grand National Calling Championships put a new and exciting face on turkey calling and hunting,” said Keck. “That time period signaled an explosion of interest in turkey hunting and spawned an entire niche in the hunting market. NWTF was a part of that and our volunteers have been there to help it evolve every step of the way.”
During the 1980s, Federation growth, in terms of member numbers and programs, was explosive. In 1983, the first Wild Turkey Super Fund membership banquet was held in Atlanta and is one of the Federation’s most successful vehicles for raising dollars for our mission.
Through what’s now named the Hunting Heritage Super Fund, NWTF chapters and volunteers raise money through ticket sales, silent auctions, live auctions and raffles. The money is combined with donations from corporate sponsors and individuals concerned about wildlife conservation.
“Because of the blood, sweat and thousands of hours hard work from our volunteers and partners, we are able to work for the wild turkey,” said Brown. “Without the dedication of our volunteers and sponsors, none of these successes could ever have been possible.”
Partnerships with these corporations, individuals and wildlife agencies result in a three to one match for every dollar a state chapter puts in its Hunting Heritage Super Fund. Just 25 years after the inaugural banquet, the number has grown to more than 2,300 banquets annually. To date, the NWTF and its cooperators have raised and spent more than $258 million upholding hunting traditions and conserving more than 13.1 million acres of wildlife habitat.
In 1987 wild turkey restoration hit the fast track with the Federation’s Target 2000 wild turkey trap and transfer program. This program was launched with the release of the first turkey using state Super Fund dollars. In 1998 the 100,000th wild turkey transport box was printed and that year alone, 10,000 wild turkeys were transferred between states using State Super Fund money as part of Target 2000.
The Future’s So Bright…
Today, the NWTF continues to work on managing wild turkeys and other wildlife as well as upholding our hunting heritage. Keeping the hunting heritage alive has always been a main focus of the NWTF through the JAKES/Xtreme JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship), Wheelin’ Sportsmen and Women in the Outdoors programs. But, beyond successful restoration efforts, great partnerships and efforts to recruit new hunters through its Families Afield program, designed to help remove youth hunting barriers across the nation, access to hunting areas is another significant piece of the hunting heritage puzzle.
“Our successful efforts of increasing turkey populations and the numbers of NWTF volunteers and turkey hunters over the past 35 years will all be for naught if there are no places to hunt, ” said Keck. “Through the new More Places to Hunt program, the NWTF hopes to accomplish even more, by ramping up efforts through land purchases, conservation easements, legislative action and working with partners to provide more room to roam on public and private lands. A successful More Places to Hunt program will help keep the hunting heritage alive across the nation for generations to come.”
A Challenging Plan
Another major undertaking of the NWTF in coming years is the North American Wild Turkey Management Plan. Ensuring the wild turkey’s future is the challenge of the NAWTMP. This ambitious plan not only will maintain the wild turkey’s future through the 21st century but will also conserve the flora, fauna and habitat that define its world. The plan will be dynamic and adaptable by constantly monitoring progress, balancing the social needs of people with the biological needs of wildlife and making proper corrections and decisions as each situation unfolds. Hunters were vital to the recovery of the species, and their continued support is the key element to making this plan a success.
“While the restoration of the wild turkey in the United States and Canada is nearly complete, the plan to ensure the future of the wild turkey will be an enormous undertaking in constant progress,” said Kennamer. “The NWTF is, once again, looking to its volunteers, chapters and partners to keep the wild turkey around for many generations to come. The funds generated by sportsmen through the sale of hunting licenses and each state chapter’s Super Fund that were used to restore the wild turkey, will now also be used to save their future.”