For NWTF Regional Biologist Matt DiBona, the severe winter of 2014-15 in the Northeast was a strong reminder of how vital it is to provide suitable habitat to help turkeys and other wildlife species survive periods of extreme low temperatures and snowfall. Extended periods of heavy snowfall can render foraging areas on the forest floor unreachable. Access to other food sources becomes critical, often meaning the difference between survival and death.
According to DiBona, some of the most important winter habitat for turkeys is found in forest openings and within young forest habitat. “These crucial areas typically include fruit-bearing trees and shrubs that provide quality fall and winter food sources,” he said. “They’re also dense enough to provide good cover for turkeys, many small birds and mammals. Wild turkeys are resilient creatures and can survive tough winters as long as they have access to food. This is exactly why the NWTF and its partners have such a long history of working to put this type of habitat on the ground where it is needed most.”
For example, DiBona points out the NWTF is working with the USDA Forest Service and Wildlife Management Institute to restore and maintain forest openings on the Green Mountain National Forest.
“These areas typically range from 2 to 8 acres and need to be periodically set back via burning, mowing and even chipping, if the trees are too big, to maintain their value for wildlife,” he said. “Biologists work with machine operators to retain certain species and habitat features, such as blueberry patches and shadbush thickets, that provide food or cover, while removing less desirable species.”
Another successful NWTF tool is the Conservation Seed Program, which uses donated expired seed that cannot be sold for commercial purposes but is perfect for wildlife plots. The NWTF’s New York State Chapter distributed 900 to 1,000 bags of Roundup-ready corn to plant for wildlife. These crops are left standing for wildlife, providing about 3,000 acres of winter foraging habitat each year. — Travis Faulkner