The NWTF Georgia State Chapter contributed $20,000 to help the Georgia Department of Natural Resources purchase vital lands that expanded the Paulding and Sheffield Forest wildlife management areas in Paulding County, providing Georgia hunters more public land and wild turkeys with more contiguous habitat.
Contiguous habitat is essential for wild turkeys and so many other wildlife species. When a forest, or even just a pocket of a forest, becomes developed, it fragments wild turkeys’ range, diminishing the overall size of habitat but also disconnecting the variety of habitat types.
“Turkeys use different habitat types for specific needs,” said Ricky Lackey, NWTF district biologist. “Wildlife openings, for instance, provide great foraging and brood-rearing opportunities, while a young forest interspersed with old hardwoods provides great nesting cover and roosting.”
If wild turkeys have good roosting habitat in one part of the forest and great foraging and water resources on the other side, for example, nearby development can fragment wild turkeys’ ability to use one or more of these important habitat types.
“Any development, but especially large-scale development, can have detrimental consequences to wild turkey populations,” Lackey said.
This is why NWTF chapters nationwide are helping facilitate land acquisitions, so it remains both optimal for wild turkeys and accessible to the public.
This specific land acquisition in Georgia included three different tracts of land that totaled 909 acres added to the sought-after WMAs. For years, the Georgia DNR has been trying to acquire these lands to prevent future development, as the area is a high priority for conservation.
“The Racoon Creek, which flows through the property, was listed as a high priority in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan in 2015,” Lackey said. “This area is further important because of the presence of montane longleaf pine, two federally protected fish and the overall unique habitat it provides for so many wildlife species, game and nongame alike.”
The land, however, remained private until a unique opportunity presented itself in late 2020 to purchase the land, expand the WMAs and conserve critical habitat.
“The NWTF Georgia State Chapter was proud to contribute to this land acquisition,” Lackey said. “It hits on all aspects of our mission.”
The Paulding and Sheffield WMAs are popular for deer and turkey hunting, as well as fishing.
Moreover, the NWTF Georgia State Chapter has a rich history of partnering with the Georgia DNR to conserve land in this part of the state. In 2013, for example, the state chapter helped the Georgia DNR acquire the 1,050-acre Howell Tract, and in 2019, the 467-acre TIR Hubble Tract.
In addition to the NWTF and the state of Georgia, additional partners on this most recent purchase included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a private grant.
Opening access to public hunting is one of the main components of NWTF’s Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative, a 10-year goal to increase conserved or enhanced wildlife habitat acres, open access to more public hunting and improve hunting participation. All goals were surpassed in 2020, with two years of the initiative remaining. As the initiative approaches its final year, the NWTF, since 2012, has conserved or enhanced 4,444,680 acres, opened 678,686 acres to public hunting access and recruited 1,531,384 new hunters.