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Continuing over Two Decades of Habitat Enhancements
EDGEFIELD, S.C. — The NWTF continues its Challenge Cost-Share agreement with the USDA Forest Service in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest.
The NWTF’s Challenge Cost-Share agreement with the Green Mountain National Forest dates back two decades. Over the years, collaborative efforts have translated to hundreds of acres of wild turkey habitat improvements and the enhancement of overall biodiversity across the national forest.
The GMNF has a Land and Resource Management Plan that lays out a goal for up to 5% of the forest to be managed as permanent upland openings. Reaching that goal is complex and is where the NWTF steps in to collaborate with the Forest Service and support their management priorities while creating some excellent wildlife habitat.
“One of the Green Mountain National Forest’s forest-wide composition objectives is to maintain and restore the quality, amount and distribution of habitats that produce viable and sustainable populations of native and nonnative desirable plants and wildlife,” said Scott Wixsom, Forest Service biological technician.
Maintaining these forest objectives is done through management techniques such as planting pollinator-friendly grasses, using equipment to mulch undesirable woody vegetation and prescribed fire to open understories and let the sunlight in. In the Green Mountain National Forest, much of this work is done specifically to create and manage wildlife openings.
Typically ranging from 5 to 20 acres, wildlife openings are relatively small openings in the forest that offer diversity to the forest composition. Continual maintenance prevents undesirable vegetation from gradually reclaiming the openings and turning back into mature forest, where more costly solutions and mechanized equipment are required to revitalize the opening to the desired condition.
The Pike Hollow project near Stratton, Vermont, is a recent demonstration of restoring a reforested opening back into early successional habitat and the cyclical work needed to maintain it.
In 2019, the NWTF and the Forest Service collaborated to restore a 10-acre forest opening. Hefty management efforts were required initially. A “brontosaurus” mulching attachment and an excavator were used to grind down the trees. The equipment efficiently reduced an 8-inch diameter tree into wood chips.
The project site was followed up with controlled burns in the spring of 2023, and the results have been exceptional.
“We do a lot of prescribed burning for the benefit of wildlife and maintaining wildlife openings,” said Robert Goulding, Green Mountain National Forest Service assistant fire management officer. “Our objectives are to maintain wildlife openings in an early to mid-successional habitat type, reduce thatch layer and ground fuels to promote grasses, berry and forb response, encouraging pollinator habitat, and, in doing that, also reduce our hazardous fuel loading within the burn units, making them less susceptible to unwanted forest fire.”
In addition to the benefits Goulding noted, using prescribed fire as a management tool provides wild turkeys the essential foraging and brood-rearing habitat they need to raise poults year after year.
“When we create forest openings, we are diversifying habitat types for wild turkeys,” said Matt DiBona, NWTF New England district biologist. “While wild turkeys need mature trees for roosting and dense vegetation to evade predators, they also rely on the benefits of forest openings. Native grassy and herbaceous vegetation promoted by our management efforts is great nesting habitat for hens. What’s more, it attracts insects, and this is very important when you consider wild turkey poults require almost an entirely insect-based diet for the first two weeks after hatching. The low-growing vegetation also lets small poults forage and remain hidden from predators.”
Throughout the partnership with the Green Mountain National Forest, the NWTF has impacted hundreds of acres that are essential for wild turkeys, while also improving the overall biodiversity. It wouldn’t happen without collaboration.
“Our partnership with NWTF allows us to raise awareness of the importance of providing for critical wildlife habitat through outreach and direct, hands-on management with local chapters,” Wixsom said. “Our partnership has allowed each of us to leverage funding through grants, donations and national agreements, which enables us to put funds directly into on-the-ground practices. The NWTF biologists also provide technical expertise and support in the planning and implementation of projects. During large-scale land management public meetings, the NWTF has worked diligently as a liaison between private landowners and the Green Mountain National Forest as we strive to meet our collective habitat goals.”
About the National Wild Turkey Federation
Since 1973, the National Wild Turkey Federation has invested over half a billion dollars into wildlife conservation and has conserved or enhanced over 22 million acres of critical wildlife habitat. The organization continues to drive wildlife conservation, forest resiliency and robust recreational opportunities throughout the U.S. by working across boundaries on a landscape scale.
2023 is the NWTF’s 50 th anniversary and an opportunity to propel the organization’s mission into the future while honoring its rich history. For its 50 th anniversary, the NWTF has set six ambitious goals: positively impact 1 million acres of wildlife habitat; raise $500,000 for wild turkey research; increase membership to 250,000 members; dedicate $1 million to education and outreach programs; raise $5 million to invest in technology and NWTF’s people; and raise $5 million to build toward a $50 million endowment for the future. Learn how you can help us reach these lofty goals.
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