Conservation Wrap-up: 436,769 Acres Conserved or Enhanced in 2021!

To say the NWTF continued to deliver its mission amid a global pandemic would be an understatement. The NWTF’s conservation staff, partners and volunteers nationwide came up with innovative solutions to ensure important conservation projects with its partners did not falter. Despite some red tape here and there caused by the pandemic, the NWTF is proud to have conserved or enhanced 436,759 acres of wildlife habitat in 2021, bringing NWTF’s nine-year total to 4,444,680 and over 20 million acres since the organization’s inception in 1973.

“NWTF’s conservation delivery comes in all shapes and sizes,” said Mark Hatfield, NWTF’s director of conservation services. “Some conservation projects we cannot quantify by acre, such as our involvement in wild turkey research or relocation efforts, so when we say 436,759 acres conserved or enhanced in a year, that is a conservative estimate that directly reflects habitat conservation.”

Ensuring healthy habitat is one of the most effective ways to benefit wild turkeys and many other wildlife species on a landscape scale. The NWTF expends significant resources to create, conserve and enhance wild turkey habitat across the country.

One of the primary types of habitat the NWTF focuses its efforts on is early successional habitat, which is an area with vigorously growing grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees that provides excellent food and cover for wild turkeys.

“Today, creating early successional habitat for wild turkeys also coincides with the need to improve forest health and manage forests correctly,” Hatfield said. “This is why we are able to bring in so many crucial partners that help bolster our mission, such as state wildlife agencies the USDA Forest Service and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.”

The NWTF conservatively leverages funding 5-to-1, meaning for every dollar raised by the organization’s volunteers, members and staff turns it into $5 at a minimum. 

The NWTF’s leveraging ability and its all-encompassing work has led to the creation of many landscape scale initiatives, which are also huge factors in amplifying NWTF’s acres conserved.

In 2021, the NWTF also announced its new Waterways for Wildlife Initiative, which addresses degrading riparian health. Riparian habitats are natural ecosystems located along the banks of rivers, streams, creeks or any other water network. While riparian areas make up less than 1.5% of the entire landscape in the Great Plains, more than 70% of all plains wildlife depend upon these ecosystems for water, food, cover, roosting, nesting and as travel corridors.

“Whether it’s a change in land use, increased water demands or disrupted flood plains, there are many factors that can affect riparian ecosystem function and diminish wildlife habitat,” said Tom Spezze, NWTF national director of field conservation and state policy. “Through our Waterways for Wildlife Initiative, we are committed to reversing these trends and implementing work that will improve riparian health for wild turkeys and a myriad of other species.” 

Learn more about all the landscape-scale initiatives the NWTF was involved in throughout 2021 here.

While the NWTF’s conservation delivery often entails partnerships and innovative solutions at a landscape scale addressing various habitat types, such as the new Waterways for Wildlife Initiative, the organization continues to work at a regional scale, too, ensuring as many acres for wild turkeys are enhanced.

“Whether we are working on a landscape scale or simply enhancing one acre of habitat on a WMA, having the proper tools and equipment to do it is important,” Hatfield said. “This can range from providing seed to our members and partners through our seed programs, to purchasing equipment for our partners. Making sure our people have the right equipment to create, conserve or enhance wild turkey habitat is an important tool in our arsenal.”   

Be it creating early successional habitat, delivering conservation on a landscape scale or helping its members simply plant a few acres, the NWTF was able to steamroll forward with its conservation delivery in 2021 thanks to dedicated volunteers, members, partners and staff.

Additionally, the organization was able to further eclipse its Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative goals, opening an additional 10,912 acres to public hunting access and recruiting 1,222 new hunters in 2021. The NWTF exceeded all its 10-year initiative goals two years ahead of schedule in 2020. Learn more here.

“The plan for 2022 is to continue with all the momentum we ended 2021 with” Hatfield said.

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