An estimated 60% of all land in the U.S. is privately owned. The NWTF has taken bold and innovative measures to work with private landowners across the country to enhance their property for wild turkeys and other wildlife. When landowners and land managers step up to the plate to collaborate, the results are often exceptional. This rings especially true on the 11,500-acre White Rock Pasture in East Texas.
In East Texas, the NWTF and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are repopulating the Eastern wild turkey to its historic range through the Eastern Wild Turkey Super Stocking Project. For turkeys to be release in this project, tracts of land must meet certain criteria, including a minimum of 10,000 acres of contiguous habitat. Having this much unfragmented land is critical, and working with adjoining private landowners to create optimal, contiguous habitat is important.
The owner of White Rock Pasture has an affinity for wildlife and wildlife management, especially for wild turkeys and deer, and has let Meridian Forestry and TPWD work together to optimize the unique landscape.
For the last 20 years, Craig Whealy, owner of Meridian Forestry, has worked with TPWD, NWTF and numerous partners to actively manage the 11,500-acre parcel for wildlife and timber. Whealy’s work has earned prestige in the conservation community, including receiving TPWD’s Lone Star Land Steward award. Whealy’s management over the years has included prescribed fire, hardwood stand improvements, wildlife openings, logging and more.
In 2015, the White Rock Pasture was approved for the Eastern Wild Turkey Super Stocking Project, with over 80 out-of-state birds released onto the property.
“When private landowners and forest managers step up to see how they can help, the results are almost always extraordinary,” said Annie Farrell, NWTF district biologist for Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. “Being approved for the Eastern Wild Turkey Super Stocking Project is no easy task, and the team on the White Rock Pasture got it done through passion and collaboration.”
Moreover, the super stocked wild turkeys on the White Rock Pasture were later part of a collaborative research project, conducted by TPWD and Stephen F. Austin State University, that monitored restoration efforts.
The NWTF has invested in the White Rock Pasture on multiple instances, in addition to the Eastern Wild Turkey Super Stocking Project. In 2016, the NWTF Texas State Chapter turned 29 old logging sites into permanent wildlife openings to further improve wild turkey habitat. The NWTF also contributed to 1,000 acres of understory herbicide treatments on the property to help facilitate controlled burns and increase usable space for wild turkeys.
It is not just wild turkeys that are thriving on the White Rock Pasture, either. When land is managed for wild turkeys, it benefits the entire ecosystem. Pollinators, deer, upland birds and many nongame species are all thriving as a result of proper, collaborative management in East Texas.