The Future of Wild Turkey Management and Hunting Access
The National Wild Turkey Federation has always worked hard for hunters and wildlife, especially the wild turkey. Since the start of this organization, both wild turkey and turkey hunter numbers have increased. This is a direct contribution of the NWTF’s partners, volunteers, and local chapters who have been instrumental in the success of the NWTF and its goals. However, times are changing and the NWTF must change, too. Today, the NWTF has developed programs and is working with volunteers and partners to combat two sobering trends in hunting, decreased access to public and private lands and a decline in hunter numbers, which both contribute to each other.
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. The NWTF will, once again, look 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 Hunting Heritage Super Fund that were used to restore the wild turkey, will now also be used to save their future.
As populations of people and turkeys continue to grow, conflicts are sure to arise as people and animals struggle to live harmoniously. We see it already with many urban animals, such as deer, bears, geese and beavers, that are adapting to the sprawl of urban populations in every region of the country. Hunters find it increasingly difficult to access public areas to pursue game and support conservation. Unfair tax levies are convincing many private and commercial forest owners to sell forestlands that were once accessible to hunters but might now be developed.
Ensuring the wild turkey’s future is the challenge of the North American Wild Turkey Management Plan. 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. Another feature of this plan is the importance of preserving our hunting heritage. Hunters were vital to the recovery of the species, and their continued support is the key element to making this habitat and human dimensions plan a success.
The three important guiding principles of the North American Wild Turkey Management Plan:
1. Wildlife & Habitat Conservation
Turkeys are only one part of the habitat that sustains them. Diverse assemblages of wildlife — especially rare species — exist all across North America. Instead of addressing a single species or family of wildlife, our plan takes a holistic approach that encompasses entire ecosystems. A simplistic way of looking at it is that what’s good for songbirds, deer and squirrels is also good for wild turkeys. Here are some examples:
- The NWTF’s Operation Oak program provides mast-producing hardwoods that benefit the endangered ivory-billed woodpecker thought to be in Arkansas.
- In Mississippi, forest managers conduct prescribed burns to reshape and restore the forest for the benefit of both the wild turkey and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
- Across much of the hurricane-ravaged South, NWTF is supporting the restoration of long-leaf pines not only for the benefit of turkeys but for the long-term health of the forest for people, plants and animals.
- In Central America, NWTF Mexico is working to conserve the habitat of the Ocellated turkey as well as thousands of species of rare plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet.
The wild turkey’s presence brings good news for many threatened and endangered plants and animals as management decisions designed to help one species will often benefit others. Whether NWTF’s volunteers and partners are working to help save the Blanding’s turtle of the upper Midwest and Northeast or restoring native West Coast oak savannas, such habitat work multiplies the benefits of conserving healthy, diverse habitats for a variety of species including wild turkeys.
Wild turkeys will always be linked to forests. Without healthy forests there would be no turkeys. Unfortunately, the forests are under constant scrutiny by a growing number of competing recreational and commercial uses as well as fragmentation from urban sprawl and development.
Private forest owners are under constant pressure to sell because of tax levies and development interest. The NWTF has provided its services to help private forest landowners ease their tax burdens and keep their forests intact through conservation easements. The NWTF is also supporting legislation to help commercial forest owners keep forests for compatible use for people and wildlife rather than strip malls and subdivisions.
Working with non-government organizations, government agencies, corporations and other partners in conservation gives us opportunities not only to strengthen and improve habitat but also to forge the relationships needed for across-the-board cooperation.
Long gone are the days of simply working with one biologist from a state agency and having an impact on hundreds or thousands of acres. Today, even the smallest habitat project requires the efforts of multiple partners whose very influence could have far-reaching effect on wild turkeys. For example, working with those who work with threatened and endangered species creates a win-win scenario that allows the NWTF to leverage Hunting Heritage Super Fund expenditures with Endangered Species Act dollars.
The NWTF will continue to work with state wildlife agencies, the USDA’s Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous other partners to maintain turkey habitat on millions of acres of public and private properties across North America. Our long-term partnerships with these partners were key to the restoration of the wild turkey across the U.S., and having them on board is a blessing for the wild turkey’s future.
3. More Places to Hunt
Beyond the successful restoration efforts, great partnerships and our efforts to recruit new hunters through our Families Afield, JAKES, Wheelin’ Sportsmen and Women in the Outdoors programs, access to hunting areas is another significant issue addressed by the North American Wild Turkey Management Plan. 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. That’s why the NWTF has developed a new program called More Places to Hunt. Through the new 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.
Studies by the National Shooting Sports Foundation indicate that one of the top reasons hunters give up the sport is that they can’t find places to hunt. Losing a place to hunt may seem trivial to some, but the ripple effect from such losses are immense. As hunter numbers decline, state agencies lose revenue used to support habitat and places to hunt. Without habitat and places to hunt, wild turkeys and hunters lose again. Without changes, the cycle will slowly feed itself until there are no places to hunt, no hunters, and ultimately, no turkeys.
Widespread urban sprawl, landowner liability issues and tightened state agency and federal budgets have left hunters with far less private and public access to quality wildlife areas. As part of the North American Wild Turkey Management Plan, the NWTF will continue to fight for increased hunter access.
At the core of this access program will be NWTF’s state and local chapter volunteers. Just as the NWTF’s volunteers helped bring the turkey back from near extinction, they will be a big part of grassroots efforts in increasing public and private access for hunters. In fact, NWTF chapters have already experienced tremendous success in affecting hunter access in a variety of ways, including recent land acquisitions such as those in Ohio, West Virginia and North Carolina; funding conservation easements that provide public access in Montana; funding a walk-in hunting area program in Kansas; holding landowner appreciation days in Wisconsin; and active involvement in legislative issues.
Toward The Future
NWTF’s success has always been about partnerships. And now, maintaining and building onto the relationship between hunters, federal, state and local wildlife agencies, corporate partners and NWTF volunteers, we can work toward this new direction of creating and protecting turkey habitat, and generating more opportunities and places to hunt. It’s a bold new adventure that will ensure the future of the wild turkey and turkey hunting for generations.