The NWTF’s Hunting Heritage Super Fund is a decades-long funding program well-known throughout the country as a conservation powerhouse. Created in the NWTF’s formative years, the Super Fund is a volunteer-driven program. The model begins and ends with the organization’s backbone – NWTF volunteers in every state raise money at banquets and other types of fundraisers and then allocate a significant portion of those funds back into meaningful conservation and outreach projects in their respective states. It’s a picture-perfect example of how the NWTF truly operates as a national federation. Recently, two states joined forces to accomplish a first-of-its-kind approach to the model: using super funds across state lines.
When the NWTF Tennessee State Chapter held its annual Super Fund meeting in 2022, it had more funding requests than funds to disperse. One project of particular importance that the state wanted to fund, but did not have the extra money for, was a state-of-the-art wild turkey research project.
A chance meeting between two stalwart NWTF volunteers would show just how versatile the NWTF Super Fund had become.
NWTF Indiana volunteer Patrick McFadden and new NWTF Tennessee State Chapter President Mark Darnell met for the first time at the NWTF’s 46th Annual Convention and Sport Show. Six months later, their meeting would facilitate an unprecedented move in NWTF’s conservation history.
Breaking new ground, Darnell called McFadden to see if Indiana would be interested in helping fund the $25,000 request for wild turkey research, a project that would benefit Tennessee turkeys and potentially the Eastern subspecies as a whole.
McFadden brought the request to the Indiana State Chapter’s Board of Directors. They answered the call and committed to funding the research through their Super Fund.
"Money raised from fundraising events is not state-specific," McFadden said. "The money raised is for our mission, the conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation of our hunting heritage. Working across state boundaries with like-minded volunteers, like Mark, solidifies my excitement to continue to do what I can for the NWTF and our beloved wild turkey.”
NWTF Indiana contributed $25,000 on behalf of the Tennessee State Chapter to help cover the cost of toxicology testing, lab supplies and technician time.
“The partnership truly exemplifies how NWTF volunteers are thinking about turkey populations on a national scale,” said Derek Alkire, NWTF district biologist for Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee. “A huge credit goes to the Indiana and Tennessee state chapter presidents for communicating across state lines to fund projects that are beneficial to wild turkey populations at large. Although this research is being conducted out of the University of Tennessee, its potential impact could range far outside state lines.”
The UT research seeks to address population declines by better understanding the factors of mis-hatchings, specifically on the embryonic level.
“The research will investigate egg fertilization and evidence of early embryo mortality in wild turkey eggs collected from various locations in the eastern United States,” said Richard Gerhold, Ph.D., associate professor of Biomedical and Diagnostic Sciences at the University of Tennessee. “This will be a cooperative study with various state wildlife agencies that have expressed enthusiastic interest in the study.”
During the 2023 wild turkey nesting season, state wildlife agencies participating in the research will gather unhatched eggs through various means, from simply searching wild turkey habitat to using radio-tagged hens that are part of other ongoing wild turkey research projects.
Once eggs are collected, the research team will record a variety of data, including if the eggs are from a nest where other eggs have hatched, have been predated or have been abandoned by the hen. Gerhold and team estimate about 300 eggs will be analyzed.
“Data will also be gathered in regard to participating states’ hunting seasons,” Gerhold said. “Egg fertility rates will be analyzed and compared as a function of the state-specific data to determine if start date, bag limits, season length and other factors influence if eggs are fertilized.”
In addition, material from eggs identified as having early embryonic death will be preserved and tested for toxins, such as aflatoxins and neonicotinoids.
“Our volunteers and members understand the importance of our mission and the role that science plays to inform everything we do and support regarding the wild turkey,” said Ryan Boyer, NWTF district biologist for Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. “The results from this research project could have impacts that expand far beyond a state boundary. I commend our volunteer leadership in Indiana and Tennessee for recognizing that and providing support. To me, this is one of those monumental examples of grassroots conservation at its finest at a time when we need it.”
The NWTF’s Hunting Heritage Super Fund, established in 1985, has helped the organization reach so many of the milestones it is incredibly proud of, including more than 20 million acres of wildlife habitat conserved or enhanced, millions of new hunters recruited, countless acres opened to public hunting access and nearly $9 million invested in wild turkey research, plus much more.
While the last 50 years have been remarkable, NWTF volunteers are stepping up to the plate to drive the organization for the next 50 years. This cross-boundary approach is just the beginning.