Drilling in on conservation dividends

The NWTF uses many different strategies to achieve our conservation delivery. Sometimes, it’s accomplished by digging in the dirt ourselves, sometimes it’s by administering contracts and other times it’s pooling funding or expertise. Helping agencies purchase needed tools and implements or donating them outright is one important way the NWTF impacts wildlife habitat across public and private land boundaries throughout the nation.

Through most of the NWTF’s history, chapter-raised funds, Super Fund dollars and even grants have been used to purchase and provide upkeep for land-management equipment — tractor and ATV implements, grass or grain seeders, tree planters, herbicide sprayers, drum choppers, prescribed fire tools, even some heavy equipment — to assist land-management agencies and landowners. This practice allows the NWTF to promote healthy habitats and encourage positive land-management practices on public lands. In many of these states, some equipment is also available to private landowners to borrow or rent to make improvements to their own properties or leases.

“Acreage impacted using purchased equipment makes up a significant part of our total Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative conserved/enhanced acres,” said John Burk, NWTF wildlife biologist in Missouri. “It makes up about 20% of our annual total, so it is important to delivering our mission.”

Having the right equipment for the job is one of the factors limiting land-management agencies from doing more work at the pace and scale necessary to restore neglected public lands. Others include budget constraints, availability of a trained workforce and, to an extent, public opinion.

Helping with equipment purchases gives these agencies a leg up when budgets are trimmed or reallocated and allows them to work toward completing their own annual management objectives while also helping the NWTF achieve ours.

It also gives NWTF chapter volunteers satisfaction that some of the money they raised is being wisely used locally to benefit habitat in their states.

“It’s one of the most efficient ways for NWTF to achieve these goals,” Burk said. “The average seed drill is used to plant about 400 acres per year and will last about 10 years. That’s about 4,000 acres conserved for a $5,000 investment. To pay a contractor to plant the same amount would cost about $400 per acre for about $1.6 million investment.”

The impact could be much greater than that average, however. In South Dakota, for instance, a single grass drill the NWTF state chapter helped to purchase impacted 1,500 acres in 2020, alone. These benefits continue to add up over many years during the life of the equipment.

In 2003, the NWTF Connecticut State Chapter helped to purchase a Truax grass drill for the state, and it is still going strong today, noted Mike Gregonis, a 26-year veteran of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and current wildlife biologist for the agency’s Deer, Small Game and Wild Turkey Management Programs.

“A lot of good work has occurred using the seeder by planting warm- and cool-season grasses on public and private lands all over the state during that time frame,” said Gregonis, who is a member of the NWTF’s Wild Turkey Technical Committee. “Connecticut is nearly 60% forested, so brood habitat is limited. Planting openings with warm-season grasses, like little bluestem, creates good brood habitat.”

Little bluestem grows in clumps that provide poults cover from above, seeds to eat and is easy to travel through at ground level.

In regions where public land is sparse and private lands dominate the landscape, impacting acreage isn’t as easily accomplished for NWTF staff and partners. Many landowners may have the basic equipment, such as a tractor, a bush hog, harrow or even a box blade, but most do not have access to specialized equipment because of the cost or infrequency of use. A no-till grass drill, like the one mention earlier, can cost upwards of $20,000 and even more, but they’re valuable for planting native grasses without exposing the soil to erosion or unnecessary disturbance.

Having access to this equipment at a low cost allows private landowners to perform the work necessary to improve habitat conditions on their properties while also helping states and regions meet their objectives across ownership boundaries.

“The return on investment is excellent,” said Tom Spezze, NWTF national director of field conservation. “Funds our chapters put toward equipment produce dividends to wildlife and hunters in those areas for many years, and our volunteers have the sense of pride of providing a useful resource for their state and their members.”

For more information on what equipment is available in your state, reach out to your NWTF conservation staff here

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