From a JAKES member to chapter volunteer to professional conservationist, the wild turkey and its habitat are in Mark Maggard’s genes.
Maggard was 8 when he became a member of the NWTF’s JAKES program. His grandfather, Sonny, started the Gulf Coast Limbhangers NWTF Chapter in Pasco County, Florida, in 1994. This successful chapter — today called the Sonny Maggard Chapter in honor of his grandfather’s influence and dedication to the chapter — boasts between 300-400 banquet attendees and numerous awards and contributes significant resources to the Florida Super Fund.
Growing up in this chapter and under the tutelage of numerous volunteers, Mark Maggard remains active in the chapter and serves on the committee.
“I’ve stayed active with our chapter this whole time and am now a committee member, hoping to continue [his grandfather’s] turkey conservation legacy,” he said.
In 2018, the chapter won the Osceola Trendsetter Award.
“It takes a lot of work and commitment from a lot of people to host these fundraising banquets,” Maggard explained. “I’m proud that we have a great local hunting community that understands the importance of fundraising and shows up strong for these events.”
Fundraising is important for the health of the local chapter, the state chapter and the state Super Fund, which supports hunting and conservation efforts across Florida, something Maggard understands well.
One of the programs supported by the state chapter is the Florida Wild Turkey Cost-Share Program, an ongoing partnership since 1996 with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Forest Service and the NWTF that combines FWC wild turkey hunting permit revenue, NWTF Super Fund dollars and Florida Forest Service funding to complete primarily wild turkey habitat improvements on public hunting lands throughout the state.
Maggard is also a land management specialist for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. In this position, he oversees a number of district properties that amount to nearly 25,000 acres. Cost-share dollars provide some of the funds needed to manage those properties and other district-owned lands.
“When I began working at [the water management district], I didn’t realize the close relationship the district had with the NWTF and all the projects they had already helped fund on district lands,” he explained. “The Southwest Florida Water Management District has 147,000-plus acres of wildlife management area lands to take care of, and a number of the habitat management projects we complete in a year wouldn’t be possible without the backing and financial support of the Florida Wild Turkey Cost-Share Program and the NWTF.
“Not only do these projects provide better habitat for game and a quality public-hunting experience, they also align with our goal of restoring the woods back to its native state.”
This vital work is aimed primarily at wild turkey habitat, but the impacts are much greater. Vulnerable species, such as fox squirrels, gopher tortoises, kestrels and indigo snakes, benefit from the improved habitat, as well.
“We’ve also noted a steady increase in other game species, including deer and bobwhite quail in these areas,” Maggard said.
An example of recent work supported by the cost-share program was the roller chopping of saw palmetto and brush, followed by prescribed burning on 323 acres of the Upper Hillsborough Wildlife Management Area, which Maggard supervised.
“I get to be involved in every aspect of the process, from fundraising to implementation, and I love it,” he said. “It’s truly fulfilling to see the money being raised at [NWTF] fundraising banquets, just like ours, and then being put to such effective use. I’m fortunate to get this ‘full-circle’ view of the process.
“I can say, without a doubt, the NWTF puts its money right back into the woods for the betterment of the turkey. That’s what makes me proud to be an NWTF member and to work for an organization like the Southwest Florida Water Management District.”
Click here (https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=440903586641936) to watch a video about the partnership and work accomplished through the Florida Wild Turkey Cost-Share Program.