Improving Wild Turkey Habitat one leg at a time

Donavan Albert, U.S. Forest Service Office of Communication; Guest Author: Pete Muller, National Wild Turkey Federation
November 22nd, 2016 at 1:30PM

A photo of an Eastern Wild Turkey
A picture of an Eastern Wild Turkey. (Photo Credit/National Wild Turkey Federation)

The history of Thanksgiving often brings to mind images of Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a meal with the main course being the still favored table fare of today, the humble turkey.

Although most of us know the founding story of Thanksgiving, not many of us know the history of the iconic bird that draws family and friends together every year to give thanks for all that we have.

Even though we feast upon domesticated turkey today, the related American wild turkey had a rough time in the early 20th century due to unregulated commercial hunting and the disappearance of their favored woodland habitat. In fact, their populations dropped to record lows and turkeys vanished on much of their traditional range.

A photo of a Habitat enhancement work to improve ecosystem
Habitat enhancement work to improve ecosystem. (Photo Credit/National Wild Turkey Federation)

Fortunately, today, there are now more than 6 million wild turkeys across North America, with stable populations across all of the continental US, Canada and also Hawaii. The resurgence of the turkey, considered by many to be one of the country’s most successful wildlife conservation stories, was made possible thanks to partnerships between state and federal agencies and conservation organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation.

The U.S. Forest Service and the National Wild Turkey Federation have had a partnership for many years. This relationship is built around common goals of restoring native prairie ecosystems and improving habitat for a wide variety of wildlife including turkey, bobwhite quail, white-tailed deer and many other species.  

One of the more recent collaborative efforts, a partnership responsible for more than $1 million in conservation funding, is taking place in Texas on the Caddo and Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands.  The five-year project will remove 2,700 acres of invasive red cedar trees and restore prairies to their native ecosystems. It also includes creating fuel breaks to reduce the impact of wildfires, as well as restoring 180 acres of watershed on the grasslands.

A photo of Field work for habitat improvement for the Eastern Wild Turkey
Field work for habitat improvement for the Eastern Wild Turkey. (Photo Credit/National Wild Turkey Federation)

“This project reduces the buildup of extremely flammable trees and underbrush in the national grasslands north of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, and it will help restore the land to its historic tall grass prairie ecosystems and increase the variety of wildlife including northern bobwhite quail, white-tailed deer, and Rio Grande and Eastern wild turkeys,” said Jim Crooks, National Forests and Grasslands in Texas Fire and Timber Team Leader.

These conservation efforts across the Caddo and LBJ National Grasslands mean better opportunities for public hunting, enhancing bird and wildlife watching and returning the land to its tall grass ecosystem and turkeys, with both legs, running wild.