Partnership puts turkeys back on the ground in New Hampshire

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A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) signed in August 2018 shows the commitment both organizations have to collaborate on future programs and activities, including wild turkey and habitat conservation projects, education and outreach and habitat restoration.

“[The MOU] really solidifies a great relationship we’ve had with conservation districts at the national and local level,” NWTF District Biologist Matt DiBona said. “The conservation districts have those great local relationships with landowners, and if you’re involved in wildlife habitat or conservation management, you can’t overlook that.”

NACD and NWTF have worked together through a number of national efforts, including the Forests in the Farm Bill coalition, and have collaborated with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and state forestry agencies to staff wildlife biologists and other positions to increase conservation delivery on private lands, including a planned position in New Hampshire and Vermont.

“Capacity is often a limiting factor in reaching landowners and getting projects on the ground,” DiBona said. “So, we’re really excited about that.”

In the meantime, NWTF is building on the past 20 years of collaboration with the New Hampshire Association of Conservation Districts (NHACD) to build turkey habitat and create accessible hunting property.

“The conservation districts are committed to wildlife habitat and working with landowners on technical assistance and taking the right steps for turkeys,” Cheshire County Conservation District Manager Amanda J.C. Littleton said. “Turkeys have come back with such a great success story, now they’re hunted in our region, which is great. The partnership has really been a positive impact on the environment.”

Wild turkeys had disappeared from the New Hampshire landscape completely, but in the 1970s, New Hampshire Fish and Game began transplanting turkeys back into the state. In the early 2000s, NWTF partnered with NHACD to subsidize wild turkey packets, a combination of more than 75 plants including fruit trees and shrubs, to sell to landowners through the districts’ annual tree and plant sales. Today, the turkey population is more than 40,000 and present in all counties.

“Seven of 10 counties participated in the turkey packet sales, and we’re enjoying the fruits of this,” NHACD Past President Linda Brownson said. “It’s a huge success story.”

The turkey population has increased to the point that hunters in Grafton County will be able to take two birds in the spring hunt along with one in the fall. NWTF’s 10-year Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative, established in 2012, is focused on conserving and enhancing wildlife habitat for turkeys while also working to introduce new people to hunting and opening access to more lands for public hunting. The partnership and MOU assist in that effort.

In Grafton County, the conservation district up until two years ago sold plants to the North Country Longspurs, a local chapter of the NWTF, for the group’s youth turkey hunt activities. Now conservation districts’ focus is shifting to pollinator plants, which also helps the NWTF mission and goals, DiBona said.

“The increasing importance of pollinator habitat is also a boon for turkey conservation. Not only does pollinator habitat provide forage for birds, bees and butterflies, but it also is good brooding habitat for young turkeys,” DiBona said. “When the birds hatch, the turkeys need to bring the poults (young turkeys) into a more open area with high insect content for the protein needed early on in development.”

Outreach and education is another area in which DiBona sees as an opportunity with New Hampshire conservation districts. He says about 70 percent of New Hampshire property is owned by private landowners.

“I think getting the word out to landowners regarding opportunities for managing their land for wildlife is one of the biggest things we can do to have an impact in the region,” DiBona said. “Whether it’s new landowners who have thought about it but haven’t gotten around to land management plans or organizing workshops to give landowners the tools and information they need to make those decisions. The MOU is really focused on where we have overlapping missions to help promote each other and to really be a resource to each other to promote work on private lands. Working as partners can have tremendous benefits.”

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