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The National Wild Turkey Federation, COVID-19 and Beyond

By Matt Lindler

With more than 47 years as a leader in wildlife conservation, science-based wildlife and habitat management, and an advocate for hunters’ rights, the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) is a respected voice in the conservation community throughout the United States.

Building a Firm Foundation with Partnerships

Founded in 1973, the organization was integral in the restoration of wild turkey populations across North America. As a valued partner with federal and state wildlife agencies, while leading and supporting wild turkey research during these critical early years, the NWTF helped to grow turkey populations from 1.3 million birds at our birth to more than seven million at their peak.

Recent declines of turkey populations in many areas of the country have refocused our efforts, particularly on addressing critical habitat needs. Since the NWTF started recording acreage impacts in 1985, the organization — through stewardship agreements with the USDA Forest Service and a partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to implement Farm Bill services on private lands — eclipsed more than 20 million acres of impact in 2019. Through the NWTF’s America’s Big Six of Wildlife Conservation program and our “Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.” initiative; partnerships across the nation with like-minded organizations, such as the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD), NWTF brings laser-like focus to efforts and resources to benefit a multitude of wildlife species, forest health, water quality and abundance, and communities. The NWTF conserved or enhanced nearly four million acres of that total in just seven years.

A Voice for Wildlife and Hunters

Providing a voice to our more than 250,000 members, the NWTF is actively involved in our nation’s capital and at the state level, and has a seat at the discussion table on many issues related to our mission. The NWTF, through our participation with the American Wildlife Conservation Partners and other collaborative efforts, helps to drive the conservation discussion in Washington, D.C., such as issues including on the Great American Outdoors Act, which was signed Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020.

During the writing of the last Farm Bill, the NWTF was a leader of the Forests in the Farm Bill Coalition to ensure private land forestry practices were prominent throughout the legislation. The NWTF also has been heavily involved with the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, Pittman-Robertson modernization, and many other legislative actions that affect conservation and hunting heritage.

Through Families Afield, a co-founded partnership between the NWTF and the Sportsmen’s Alliance, and other national- and chapter-led efforts, we have recruited or reactivated more than 1.5 million hunters in under 10 years. In that same time, the NWTF has assisted in opening more than 500,000 acres to public access, including hunting.

How a Global Pandemic Threatens Future Success

As with many businesses and nonprofit organizations around the world, the NWTF is facing unprecedented financial challenges as a result of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Prior to the pandemic, the NWTF was on track to complete the fiscal year at or ahead of budget. Fundraising was up, membership was up, and this past February, we had a record-breaking Convention and Sport Show with over 57,000 attendees in Nashville.

Social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders put in place to counter the spread of COVID-19 hit as we were entering our busiest fundraising season, and the pandemic has had a near-catastrophic impact on our income. The cancellation or postponement of banquets and events across America has threatened our ability to fulfill our mission with the momentum of 47 years’ experience and collaboration.

As a result, the NWTF is adapting our business model and operations to address today’s circumstances, but we still must raise $5 million by Aug. 31 to sustain our mission for the future. Our “Call for All” campaign fund drive hopes to reach this goal by encouraging membership renewal, attracting new members and increased giving on a personal level like never before.

Join in the Movement, Support Conservation

NWTF members are dedicated and passionate conservationists. Many renew their memberships at our banquets and other events, but with those on hold or canceled in many areas, we are encouraging our expiring members to renew online at NWTF.org. We also encourage conservation-minded folks to consider joining the NWTF and being part of the movement for wild turkeys, wildlife and natural resources, as well as our hunting rights.

New and renewing members will receive a soft-sided cooler if they join at NWTF.org. And for every 100 memberships purchased, those 100 members are entered into a drawing for a Green Mountain Grill’s Davy Crockett edition pellet grill.

Other ways you can support the NWTF:

  • Annual calendar program: Call 1-800-THE-NWTF and pre-order the 2021 NWTF wild turkey calendar through our membership department. This year’s calendar features our 2020 Turkey Country photography contest winners and other notable entries.
  • Online Auctions and Raffles: NWTF chapters across the country are doing their part by hosting virtual auctions and raffles online. Go to our Events page on NWTF.org to find one of these online events in your area.
  • Hunting Heritage Banquets: Some of our in-person banquets are ramping up again in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local guidelines to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by our participants and staff. These events are great ways to meet other conservation-minded individuals in your communities while supporting our noble mission. Go to our Events page on NWTF.org to find one of these in-person events in your area.

Matt Lindler is the Director of Conservation Communications for NWTF. Contact him at mlindler[at]nwtf.net or 803-637-3106.

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