In 1994, what began as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission – then called Florida Fish and Game Commission – and the NWTF each contributing $5,000 to plant food plots on public hunting land has now blossomed into a nearly 30-year partnership that contributes almost $2 million annually to habitat conservation and enhancement. This is Florida’s Wild Turkey Cost-Share Program.
“The primary focus of the program is to fund active land management practices that improve wild turkey habitat, while also improving forest health,” NWTF District Biologist Ricky Lackey said. “Common practices that are supported through this program include prescribed fire; herbicide treatments of native and nonnative invasive plant species; mechanical treatments of dense understory vegetation; wildlife openings; and purchase of equipment, among various project-specific needs.”
In addition to the NWTF and the FFWCC, the Florida Forest Service is a contributing partner to the program. The list of participating partners in the program is extensive, including the USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many additional federal, state, local and nongovernmental organization partners.
“One thing we are particularly proud of through the program is its contribution to NWTF’s Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative,” Lackey said. “The program has accounted for a full 15 percent of the entire 4-million-acre Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. goal, conserving and enhancing 600,000 acres since the initiative started in 2012.”
From starting as a small partnership to plant food plots on WMAs in the 1990s, the Wild Turkey Cost-Share Program has grown into a large, statewide effort that impacts tens of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat each year.
“COVID-19 has put a damper on funding for some of the work facilitated through the program,” Lackey said. “However, this program has, time and time again, demonstrated its efficacy, and we continued to push through and accomplished solid habitat work in 2020, despite the pandemic. Working with our great partners in Florida, the future of the program will continue to grow and keep Florida a turkey hunting destination.”