You’ll hear the “What’s good for turkeys is good for wildlife” mantra repeated often from NWTF biologists and volunteers, and those words are being practiced on the Black Kettle National Grassland, a 30,000-acre area in Oklahoma's Cibola National Forest.
“The goal is not just to improve Rio Grande wild turkey roosting and loafing habitat by opening up the understory in and around these preferred areas with some being on small drainages,” said Gene Miller, NWTF regional biologist covering West Texas and Oklahoma. “The goal is also to restore early successional habitat for grassland birds, including Northern Bobwhite quail, that have declined in number.”
The NWTF Oklahoma State Chapter, the USDA Forest Service and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife and Conservation started a cooperative effort in 2011 to improve the health of native cottonwood timber stands by removing dense stands of Eastern red cedar and other non-desirable and invasive species.
The Black Kettle Wildlife Management Area is in the heart of the Canadian River Focal Landscape, a region identified as an area of focus as part of the Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative.
“The topography, the soil composition, the vegetation of this area lends itself to being a highly prolific area for wildlife,” said Miller. “The Black Kettle National Grassland is a very popular destination for quality hunting. In years of good, timely rain, the wildlife production potential just goes through the roof. This abundance of wildlife when combined with quality public land opportunities really makes this an ideal landscape for focused work.”
Native stands of cottonwood are critical to turkeys and scores of other wildlife species. And it’s not just the trees that matter; it’s the understory beneath those trees. Invasive species are taking over the understory.
“The area is being inundated by Eastern red cedar, which are are very aggressive and invasive,” Miller said. “This impacts hydrology that is very important in the region. Dense stands also impact wildlife species, including Rio Grande turkeys that rely on hearing and eyesight as their primary defense. They simply can’t see or hear as well in areas where vegetation is thick.”
The plan of attack is to use heavy equipment in a mastication process, which grinds the dense cedar stands into mulch. The trees are chewed down to the forest floor. Follow-up treatment is employed to ensure that regenerating species are of a desirable nature.
“When we work with these types of stewardship agreements, we can leverage dollars,” Miller said. “We can take NWTF Super Fund or state branch dollars and earn, perhaps, a 4-to-1 match on that investment from Forest Service funding and other sources. That’s how we’re able to get a lot of work done and make a difference.”
Thus far, 161 acres of habitat have been treated across five units. The NWTF provides professional project management services, something that is a huge benefit, given Forest Service time and budget constraints.
Hunting the Black Kettle National Grassland
The Black Kettle National Grassland lies east of the Texas Panhandle. Of the 31,286 acres contained in the National Grassland, just less than 600 acres are located in Texas with the remaining lands in Oklahoma.
The Black Kettle Wildlife Management Area is contained in the National Grassland and is one of Oklahoma's most popular public hunting areas. Arguably, the WMA’s top draw is the quail hunting.
Rio Grande turkeys are also pursued and the area has plenty of drainages and cottonwood stands from which to choose. It is also home to a sizeable population of white-tailed deer.