Wild turkeys do best in a landscape with nearly equal amounts of forested and open habitats, said Rick Horton, NWTF district biologist for Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.
However, those picture-perfect type landscapes are hard to find in some areas of the country. To create these areas where they do not already exist, biologists work with partners to maintain and increase grassy cover that provides excellent brood-rearing habitat in heavily forested areas. Conversely, in areas without substantial cover, land managers work to create more forests and trees suitable for roosting and for loafing cover.
“Planting seedlings is fine, but they are prone to deer depredation and no matter how hard you try, the trees almost always end up planted in straight rows,” Horton said.
The fix is a process called “direct seeding,” and old crop fields are an excellent option for this type seeding. A giant tractor-mounted spreader broadcasts a mix of acorns, walnuts, hickory nuts, ash seed and other hardwoods across a plowed field, Horton said. In the next step, the field is drug to cover seeds with soil.
The result is a diverse young forest with more natural attributes. It grows fast in full sun, and the seedling density is often high enough to absorb deer depredation, he said.
The Minnesota NWTF State Chapter funded three such projects in 2018, totaling 20 acres on wildlife management areas in Lyon, Le Sueur and Blue Earth Counties.
“We contributed $2,120 from the state Super Fund, and our agency partners provided $6.75 for every NWTF dollar,” Horton said.
Completing even small-scale projects can have a positive impact on wild turkey populations while benefiting other wildlife in the process.