When many people think of Louisiana, New Orleans, Bourbon Street, spicy Cajun cooking, black-water swamps and wide-mouthed alligators may come to mind. But beyond The Big Easy, the state is loaded with diversity and there is always something exciting going on in the bayou.
Spring turkey season is intense across the state. Stocking programs, intense management practices and habitat improvement projects have transformed Bayou Country into a target-rich environment.
On the ground floor
The Kisatchie National Forest is composed of nearly 600,000 acres spread across six ranger districts. It is the only national forest in the state in the piney hills and hardwood bottoms of northern Louisiana. Easy access to much of Kisatchie National Forest is available via Interstate 49 between Shreveport and Lafayette. Visitors can take advantage of numerous recreational activities including camping, fishing, hunting, motorcycle riding, mountain biking, horseback riding and bird watching.
The forest encompasses more than 40 developed recreation sites and more than 100 miles of trails specifically designed for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
The Saline Bayou was designated a national scenic river in fall 1986. Kisatchie National Forest is loaded with outdoor activity opportunities, breath-taking scenery and is home to an array of wildlife.
Habitat enhancement projects
In 2013 and 2014, the NWTF Louisiana State Chapter supported the creation and planting of multiple wildlife openings. This 205-acre project produced excellent brood rearing habitat and much needed forage for wild turkeys. The chapter contributed $26,000 toward the annual project; Kisatchie National Forest provided $30,450 in additional funding. The money was invested in seeding, planting, bush hogging and creating wildlife openings.
This fall, an NWTF stewardship program agreement will provide $13,100 to complete 40 acres of mulching and understory opening for Forest Service roads in the Caney Ranger District. The agreement supports habitat improvement work that will complete 41 miles of linear roads. These projects include disking, cutting brush and planting clover, which will provide native warm season grass forage and interspersed cool season grasses throughout the spring.
According to NWTF Regional Biologist Luke Lewis, this type of habitat enhancement work and other projects play a vital role in wildlife management.
“Each year additional projects such as prescribed burning are used to support forest health along with improving recovery for endangered animals and plant species,” Lewis said. “These projects help increase understory plants that benefit game and nongame animals. Prescribed burning generates essential brood rearing habitat turkey poults depend on in the early and mid-summer months. Conducting these projects every two to three years creates critical structure needed to maintain productive habitat growth for turkeys and numerous other wildlife species.”
The NWTF’s impact
Lewis believes the NWTF, its chapters and volunteers have an overwhelming impact on projects like these.
“Louisiana boasts more than 6,000 NWTF members who are active and dedicated,” Lewis said. “Their fund raising banquets generate the dollars needed to plan and conduct crucial habitat enhancement work across the state. They also support the NWTF’s new Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative. Without the help, support and funding from the NWTF and local chapters, it would be difficult to complete the types of projects that truly make a difference in the field.”
Louisiana has developed a 10-year plan to improve and care for wild turkey habitat, and to recruit more hunters and conservationists. The state chapter also is partnering with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Kisatchie National Forest to fund and conduct research on prescribed burns. The information gathered will enable the NWTF and wildlife agencies to determine the habitat use of different landscapes by wild turkeys before and after dormant and growing seasons following prescribed burns.