Through a partnership agreement, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the National Wild Turkey Federation have forged the National Forestry Initiative, a program dedicated to aiding private landowners across the country and fostering greater stewardship of America’s natural resources. The NWTF and the NRCS both have a mutual interest in conservation and the sustainable use of land, water, wildlife and other resources across the country and have worked together for more than 17 years.
Working out of NRCS field offices, 24 NFI foresters, funded by both the NWTF and the NRCS, deliver technical and financial assistance to private landowners across the nation through farm bill conservation programs.
NFI foresters act as a support system and educational resource for private landowners and conduct an array of duties, ranging from helping landowners apply for conservation programs, to hosting “landowner field days,” which are educational events that illustrate how NFI programs benefit the landscape, the landowner and wildlife.
Staffing of these positions with trained foresters and wildlife biologists began in the early summer of 2019, and the results to date have been astounding: more than 119,000 privately owned forest acres have been enhanced.
“Much of the private lands we benefit through the National Forestry Initiative are part of a larger overall habitat system,” said Michael Mitchener, NWTF National Forestry Initiative coordinator. “Our partnership with the NRCS allows us to benefit land that would otherwise be inaccessible to management. This allows for significantly more contiguous habitat for wild turkeys and other species, not to mention making the landowner’s property safer, more resilient and more of an asset. It’s a win for wild turkeys and everyone else involved.”
Though much of the work conducted through the National Forestry Initiative is similar in nature (prescribed fire, selective harvesting, invasive species treatment, etc.), individual forest management plans are often unique for each landowner. Factors affecting individual management plans include the types of trees on the property, the wildlife that inhabit it, whether it’s been managed previously or whether there is water on the property, among other aspects.
“Our NFI foresters survey the property and basically create specific management plans that are tailored to benefit the resources and the landowner’s desired outcome,” Mitchener said.
Wild turkeys and many other species thrive in early successional habitat and young forests, which are areas with vigorously growing grasses, forbs, shrubs and young trees that provide excellent food and cover for turkeys and other wildlife. Much of the work NFI foresters implement creates this beneficial habitat type.
“This program really captures the essence of the NWTF’s mission,” Mitchener said. “It shows how the work the NWTF does for wild turkeys overlaps and benefits so many other species, habitats and people.”