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Guzzlers for Gobblers: Water, It's Not Just For Drinking

By: Scott Vance

The landscape, sterile sand broken by ominous, gnarled lava flows and the occasional cactus, looked inhospitable to any kind of life. We joked (at least I think we were joking) about melanistic rattlesnakes (called bellworms by the locals) with jet black coloration that allows them to blend perfectly with the soot-colored surface of the lava. We were a long way from the hardwood forests of my native North Carolina.

I was traveling with a group of NWTF volunteers and biologists from Albuquerque, N.M., west to the Zuni Mountains to look at potential sites for wild turkey habitat projects. At any minute, I expected a road runner, followed closely by a determined coyote, to sprint across the highway.

Near a U.S. Forest Service sign, we turned off the highway onto a bumpy gravel road, which snaked its way through a long, narrow canyon dotted with lush meadows and towering ponderosa pines.

"Turkeys!" someone yelled and pointed out the window. There they were, a small flock of Merriam’s turkey hens and poults nervously melting into the shadows of the pines.

As we continued along the road, Larry Cosper, a staff biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, explained that the streamside vegetation running through this canyon had been improved through projects cooperatively funded and manned by the U.S. Forest Service and volunteers from New Mexico chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation. All of the projects fall under the NWTF’s Guzzlers for Gobblers program, which is funded through the national projects portion of the Wild Turkey Super Fund and is designed to provide more watering opportunities for wildlife in hard, arid land.

In New Mexico, volunteers have constructed rock header dams, placed water catchments and improved culverts along the creek to catch and hold sediments and improve streamside habitat. These simple improvements created lush green meadows, year-round water and excellent brood-rearing and feeding habitat for Merriam’s wild turkeys in the Zuni Mountains.

Including New Mexico, 11 other western states are eligible for funds to support Guzzlers for Gobblers, which began its third year in 2001. Volunteers from all 12 states have completed Guzzler projects.

In the arid habitats of the West, water improvement projects can be the difference between lush wild turkey habitat and dry creekbeds. The hard work of dedicated NWTF volunteers and continued support of agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management can ensure that the gobble of wild turkeys echoes throughout the western landscape.




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