Maintaining Oaks for Better Winter Habitat

Many of the Midwestern states have harsh winters that can be challenging for wild turkey populations. 

Lee Crocker, a forester and NWTF regional biologist in Ohio, tries to ensure there are adequate natural foods available to wild turkeys all winter long. “If birds have plenty of food through winter, we end up with better recruitment and a better hatch, because the hens are healthier as they come out of winter. One thing we are doing to ensure they have plenty of food is maintaining oak stands on the Wayne National Forest,” Crocker said.

Crocker works with the only national forest in Ohio on tree release projects to boost mast crops for years to come. “We go into younger stands of trees that are 6 to 12 inches in diameter and locate good mast-producing oak trees,” Crocker said. “We thin some of the competing trees around them, allowing them to grow and produce more acorns. Some research shows there can be between a 200- to 700-percent increase in acorn production. Turkeys and all wildlife benefit from this management practice.”

In the Wayne National Forest, red maple, sassafras and other trees that don’t have much value to wildlife are often removed. The NWTF oversees crop tree release projects on 1,500 acres on this public ground. 

Crocker also works with private landowners on similar cost-share projects. These programs yield long-term benefits to wildlife. Once improvements are made, wildlife reap the benefits for decades, because the trees produce more acorns over time, unlike a food plot or crop field that regularly needs to be planted.

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