Forestry Notes Q&A: National Wild Turkey Federation

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Rebecca Barnard, National Forestry Programs Manager
National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF)

As the national forestry programs manager with the National Wild Turkey Federation, Rebecca Barnard provides direction to NWTF’s forestry outreach and partnership efforts; serves as a liaison to federal, state, NGO, and for-profit forestry organizations; and promotes active forest management to internal and external audiences. Prior to November 2013, she served as the forest certification coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Barnard recently sat down with NACD to discuss a number of NWTF initiatives and how it helps promote forest management.

Many people identify NWTF only with turkey hunting enthusiasts. Yet, the Federation has grown considerably in the areas of conservation planning and habitat management for other species. How do you manage brand identity when building new partnerships?

NWTF’s team of trained wildlife biologists and foresters operate in a variety of habitats and deliver projects that are beneficial to many wildlife species, in addition to wild turkeys. As NWTF’s team has grown, so too has our conservation delivery footprint. Coupled with the fact that wild turkeys are habitat generalists, NWTF’s habitat work directly benefits many game and non-game species alike, including threatened and endangered species.

This expansion in focus beyond our singular flagship species was a natural progression and is not new. Fortunately, because so many of NWTF’s positions are developed cooperatively with partners, we’ve been able to bring partners along on this journey by leveraging their knowledge and support to address mutual conservation priorities and challenges. This has given us the platform and credibility to expand our reach beyond the turkey-centric components of our mission.

The challenge is really more about telling our story effectively than it is about managing our brand or identity. NWTF has recently focused more efforts on educating our membership, partners, and the general public about the multi-species benefits of our “Save the Habitat.” efforts. Today, the NWTF is much bigger than turkeys. We are a trusted and valued partner within the conservation and hunting heritage arenas.

Your audience desires a healthy habitat, which is often the product of a well-managed forest. What tools does NWTF use to help private landowners and land users make that connection?

Starting at a very young age, wild turkeys roost in trees overnight, so without healthy forests, they won’t survive adolescence. Most people don’t make this connection, so NWTF has increased its efforts to educate them about the link between healthy forests and quality wild turkey habitat.

Active forest management is at the core of much of NWTF’s habitat work, and not just because of the “Save the Habitat.” campaign. Forest management is directly connected to NWTF’s efforts to “Save the Hunt.,” as the majority of bird and big game hunters hunt in forests. Whether they realize it or not, sustainably managed forests provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife species while also providing safe, viable tree stand options from which to hunt.

As part of its outreach, NWTF develops and distributes materials for private landowners, partners, and the public, including NWTF’s Turkey Country magazine, press releases, website and social media content, cable TV shows, and interpretative signs for on-site education during/post completion of habitat work. NWTF also relies on targeted interactions with decision makers, field days/workshops, one-on-one landowner interactions, and technical assistance delivered by NWTF field staff (wildlife biologists and foresters) to reach landowners and the public with its message.

The “America’s Big Six” program is an ambitious initiative to impact wildlife habitat and landscape-scale conservation. How did NWTF decide on your six geographic target areas, and how can conservation districts help this initiative?

For several years prior to NWTF’s “Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.” initiative, NWTF was accomplishing great work, but through “random acts of conservation kindness” rather than in a strategic fashion. In order to achieve maximum, long-term results across the landscape, NWTF staff, partners, and volunteers agreed that a more strategic approach was needed, especially in light of the ever-increasing number and severity of conservation challenges contrasted by limited capacity, resources, readily-available funding, etc.

NWTF’s primary focus when developing “America’s BIG 6 of Wildlife Conservation” was to identify critical areas of upland habitat where additional conservation efforts were needed to ensure wild turkeys and wild turkey hunting could still be viable in 100 years. NWTF, in coordination with partners, members and volunteers, focused on: (1) core wild turkey habitats (with many other species falling under this umbrella), (2) habitats imperiled from a management standpoint, and (3) those in need of protection.

We also considered: (1) NWTF’s ability to positively impact those habitats, (2) land ownership, (3) presence of active partnerships poised to make significant impacts in the next ten years, and (4) areas of social and economic importance for the people living on those landscapes. This was a critical step for creating buy-in and ownership of our Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative.

NWTF’s 87 focal landscapes represent a total of 742 million acres across the landscape. Almost all of these focal landscapes are under private ownership, so conservation districts can play a critical role in helping NWTF achieve its goal to conserve or enhance 4 million acres of critical wildlife habitat.

NWTF will need to work directly with private landowners through partnerships with state and federal agencies, other non-profit organizations, and conservation districts in order to reach this target. Conservation districts work with, and are trusted partners of, private landowners already, so they can play a key role in providing additional capacity, resources, and information as we work toward healthy forests, proper habitat management, and sustainable wildlife populations. Together we are stronger!

One of the three goals of “Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.” is to recruit 1.5 million new hunters. What qualities define the hunters and outdoor enthusiasts of this next generation?

The next generation of hunters will certainly share some of the characteristics of past generations, but they are more diverse in their interests, and were introduced to hunting and/or motivated to connect with the outdoors in different ways than hunters of older generations.

The traditional pathways that introduced many within the current generation to hunting at an early age (family, network of friends, etc.) are becoming less common due to an aging hunting population and societal changes. And unlike some older hunters, the next generation may join because they want to harvest their own food sustainably, simply enjoy the benefits of being connected to nature, or challenge themselves personally or physically. There is little doubt we are seeing a shift in the hunting culture and how hunters are defined.

Despite these shifts and changes, recruiting new hunters, while also retaining current hunters and reactivating past hunters, is critical. Hunters fund the vast majority of wildlife conservation in North America through excise taxes (generating nearly $1 billion annually) on the sale of sporting arms and ammunition. These funds support state wildlife agencies in their work to conserve and restore healthy habitats and wildlife populations on public lands, as well as targeted conservation work to not only benefit game species, but also non-game species. Past and current generations of hunters have understood and are proud of this connection.

Many new hunters, however, are unaware of their role in continuing to support and fund wildlife conservation. We need to work together to educate the next generation of hunters so that they understand and take pride in their role as critical partners in conservation to continue the great hunting heritage legacy this country has enjoyed.

The NWTF Convention & Sport Show is one of the largest and most interactive conservation events. In a sentence, describe the experience to someone who has never attended.

It’s an opportunity to meet and interact with like-minded individuals who care about wild turkeys, healthy forests, our hunting heritage, and the many others who simply want to give back and be part of conservation in this great country.

NWTF’s Conservation Conference, timed simultaneously with the first few days of Convention, is geared towards natural resource professionals and dedicated volunteers who have an interest in wildlife research, hunting heritage topics, forest management, etc. This conference attracts several hundred outside attendees and includes informative and interactive sessions with NWTF staff and partners.

NWTF was an active participant in the Forests in the Farm Bill coalition, which gathered the support of more than 100 groups across the country (including NACD). What are you most proud of from that recent effort?

NWTF was honored and excited to be one of the leading members in the Forests in the Farm Bill (FIFB) Coalition, along with the American Forest Foundation, the National Association of State Foresters, and The Nature Conservancy.

NWTF’s goal was to help bridge the gap between the forestry and wildlife communities to find consensus, wherever possible, in order to arrive at mutually-agreeable recommendations. It is our belief that when such recommendations are communicated with a common, unified voice by both the forestry and wildlife communities, their case will be stronger and more convincing to decision makers.

NWTF is most proud that the final FIFB platform includes many recommendations that will have positive impacts on wildlife conservation. In order to maintain or restore healthy forests and mitigate risk from future wildfires, insects, and disease, active forest management is critical.

To read more feature stories from Forestry Notes, follow Mike Beacom, NACD’s forestry specialist, here on NACD’s blog or subscribe to Forestry Notes by clicking here.

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