The National Wild Turkey Symposium: Gathering the Greatest Minds in Wild Turkey Ecology

“I am not interested in sitting on the sidelines and watching wild turkey populations or hunter numbers decline further. It is still our watch and time for us to investigate, learn and apply our knowledge to the current challenges we are facing today.” —  NWTF CEO Becky Humphries, quoted from the  2016 “Proceedings of the 11th National Wild Turkey Symposium.”

Wild turkey research, coupled with determination, was undoubtedly the driving force that brought wild turkeys from catastrophic lows in the mid-20th century to historic highs in the early 2000s, and today, with an environment that is constantly in flux and population decreases being witnessed in certain pockets of the country, the job of the National Wild Turkey Symposium is just as important in the 2020s as it was when it was first held in 1959.

The National Wild Turkey Symposium began in Memphis, Tennessee, and was created by well-known pioneers in wild turkey management, including Wayne Bailey, Fred Hardy, Gene Knoder, Sam Shaw and Don Strode. These wild turkey trailblazers organized the National Wild Turkey Symposium as representatives of the Southeastern Section of the Wildlife Society. They then held a second conference in Columbia, Missouri, in 1970, and the Symposium has met nearly every five years, leading to a comprehensive, ever-evolving body of wild turkey research, ultimately setting the precedent of wild turkey management.

The Symposium brings together wild turkey experts from all arenas, including state, federal and private wild turkey researchers, land managers, wild turkey enthusiasts and, of course, experts from the NWTF to exchange ideas relative to ensuring the sustainability of the wild turkey resource for future generations.

Since its inception, the NWTF has sponsored the National Wild Turkey Symposium and has worked in harmony with the Symposium, in multiple capacities, to effectively bolster wild turkey populations nationwide.

“The best way to think about the National Wild Turkey Symposium is a breathing and ever-evolving endeavor,” said Mark Hatfield, NWTF’s director of conservation services. “It is through this collaboration with the brightest minds that we determine the best way to manage wild turkey and populations. The NWTF Technical Committee plays a large part in the Symposium and also applying learned research in their respective states.”

The body of work that is presented and eventually published at each National Wild Turkey Symposium covers every imaginable topic surrounding wild turkeys, including policy and management, forest management, habitat use, hunting and nest predation, to name just a few.

These in-depth manuscripts are all peer reviewed, which means that the concepts in the research and the overall soundness have all been agreed upon by leading turkey experts.

“Having this platform of expertise truly pushes the envelope about what we know about wild turkeys and how they respond to their environment,” Hatfield said. “A ‘paradigm shift’ is a bold concept in the scientific community, and these researchers and academics are indeed changing the paradigm in how we understand wild turkey ecology.”

The National Wild Turkey Symposium aims to protect a resource we cherish through novel research, dedication and passion, but this group also acknowledges the success of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation; wild turkey hunters continue to be heroes of wild turkey conservation.

With new challenges, fluctuating populations and puzzles emerging in the 2020s, the National Wild Turkey Symposium in 2022 will be just as important as its inaugural gathering more than six decades ago.

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