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America's Western Wildlands

Wildlife habitat in the West spans from desert to high mountain tundra.

An Overview

States in NWTF’s Western Wildlands region include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Texas and Oklahoma.

Wildlife habitat in the West spans from desert to high mountain tundra. The diversity of its vast countryside is what makes it a destination for hunters, travelers and wildlife watchers from all over the world. Merriam’s and Gould’s wild turkeys need healthy mountain habitats and healthy forests to thrive. Turkeys need big, mature trees for roosting, a healthy forest floor that allows them to move about and avoid predators and moist areas for raising broods. Healthy forests provide a diverse canopy and understory. They are also resilient to wildfire.

Catastrophic wildfires are more common today. In the past 60 years, 61 percent of the fires in the West have occurred since 2000. Additionally, those fires are longer, burning hotter, starting earlier, continuing longer and are more difficult to control.

These trends are alarming for both human communities and wildlife habitats. While wildfires in the West are a natural occurrence, Western forests are currently in a hazardous condition due to a variety of factors including fire suppression, drought, insect infestation and disease.

These fires have destroyed tens of millions of acres across the West in the last two decades, consuming both wildlife habitat and our communities. Wildfires also hinder NWTF’s Hunting Heritage mission. On an average year in northern California alone, wildfires prohibit hunters from accessing 13,705,260 acres of public hunting land.

The West’s forested watersheds store snow in the winter that provides water throughout the year.  Western water infrastructure on forested lands include dams, reservoirs, rivers, pipelines, electrical generation and more. Clean drinking water and water for agriculture is dependent on these critical watersheds.

Moreover, the waterways in the West are the ribbons of life for people and wildlife. Wildfires, drought, floodplain degradation and many other factors are negatively and dramatically impacting the quality and availability of water in the West and beyond. For instance, water from Colorado impacts five of NWTF’s Big Six regions, including America’s Western Wildlands, America’s Great Open Spaces, America’s Crossroads, America’s Mid-South Rebirth and America’s Southern Piney Woods, affecting Merriam’s, Rio Grande, Eastern and Gould’s wild turkey subspecies. The West, its communities, its water, its wildlife and habitat are crucially important to the NWTF.

two Southeast Colorado gobblers
Merriam's Turkeys - Photo Credit: Wendy Shattil

Luckily, all of the work the NWTF funds and implements to benefit wild turkeys significantly combats these catastrophic wildfires and degradation, making communities safer, forests fire-tolerant, water cleaner and overall wildlife habitat more viable for turkeys and so many other wildlife species. The NWTF is addressing major concerns through both regional projects and landscape-scale initiatives.

Regional projects include the work NWTF state chapters fund through the NWTF Super Fund. Super Fund dollars are raised by NWTF local chapters in a state and go towards benefitting projects in their respective state. Projects like this include an array of benefits, from creating wildlife openings on WMAs or creating early successional habitat in national forests by timber harvests. When this regional work is combined with an adjacent state or state in the same Big Six Region, it amplifies the work the NWTF is doing from a national level through its landscape-level initiatives.

The NWTF is collaborating with an array of partners on a variety of projects that will ensure the wild places in NWTF’s Western Wildlands stay wild and continue to provide great habitat, on both a regional and landscape scale.

researchers working to attach a tracking device to a wild turkey

NWTF has created a handful of landscape-level initiatives across the country that incorporate many traditional and nontraditional partners, agencies and interested parties. These groups combine resources, funding and expertise that ultimately benefits the wildlife, forests, private lands and wetlands on an entire landscape.

NWTF’s Western Wildlands is involved in multiple NWTF initiatives, including the National Forestry Initiative, Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative, Northern Plains Riparian Restoration Initiative, Watershed Restoration Initiative, Western Shared Stewardship Initiative and the forthcoming Waterways for Wildlife Initiative.

Additionally, the NWTF is working with the USDA Forest Service and other partners on large, landscape-level forest stewardship work. Currently, the NWTF has stewardship projects in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah.

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