Michigan Stars in NWTF Conservation Efforts
When Al Bobrofsky drew a wild turkey tag for Michigan's experimental 1967 fall season, the only wild turkeys he had ever seen were on a wildlife research sanctuary run by Michigan State University.
Now a National Wild Turkey Federation board member, Bobrofsky described that first hunt: "I knew nothing about turkey hunting," he said, "I just applied for a tag and got one." Bobrofsky and two of his friends beat the odds that year when each harvested a turkey, an astonishing feat with the 1967 harvest rate at less that 13 percent.
According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, in 1967 there were 4,000 wild turkeys in Michigan, only one bird every 24 square miles. By the late 1970s, an estimated 8,000 birds lived in the state.
Today, Michigan is home to more than 150,000 wild turkeys, two for every square mile. Average yearly harvest has reached nearly 40,000 birds. Much of this increase can be attributed to partnerships between the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the National Wild Turkey Federation, which resulted in wild turkey releases starting in the 1980's. Michigan's efforts have been so successful it is now helping other states and provinces establish their own wild turkey populations.
"Michigan is critical to the restoration efforts of the wild turkey," said Rob Keck, NWTF CEO. "Michigan's turkey population has grown enough that they can now donate wild turkeys to other areas with a similar climate. Last year, Michigan sent 53 turkeys to be released in Ontario."
With wild turkey populations at sustainable numbers in Michigan, the NWTF's Michigan State Chapter focuses most of its efforts on habitat improvement. In 2003, the NWTF's Michigan State Chapter spent $160,000 from its Wild Turkey Super Fund to plant food-producing trees and food plots and to restore field openings, improving thousands of acres of wild turkey habitat.
The latest NWTF conservation initiative in the state is the Northern Michigan Winter Habitat Enhancement Program. Through this program the NWTF pays farmers to leave some crops standing in fields, helping wildlife obtain the food they need to survive the tough winters of Michigan's northern lower peninsula.
Another NWTF program is helping landowners plant turkey forage. Over the past year, the NWTF Conservation Seed Program has distributed more than 4,000 bags of corn seed, sunflower seed and Michigan Mix, a combination of buckwheat, millet, corn and sunflower seeds, enough seed to plant almost 10,000 acres in food plots.
"Michigan Mix was designed for the sandy and loamy soils of Northern Michigan," said Steve Sharp, NWTF regional director for Michigan. "If you throw it out on the ground, something is going to come up."
Another of NWTF's habitat programs in Michigan is Operation SOS (Set Out Seedlings). Operation SOS targets the northern Midwest, supplying trees that provide winter forage for turkeys to NWTF state and local chapters in the northern boundaries of the wild turkey's range. Last year, through Operation SOS, the NWTF planted 140,000 seedling trees and improved 500,000 acres of land in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.