Our forest system: a national treasure
Photo by Matt Lindler
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Like emerald and auburn jewels, 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands dot the map of the United States. Covering more than 8 percent of North America, these acres provide some of the most critically important and sustainable wild turkey habitat in existence. They're also home to some of the most endangered wildlife species and habitats in the world. Not only are they managed for wildlife sustainability, but also for their recreational, economic and aesthetic values.
The National Forest System was created by visionary conservationists who passed laws to establish, protect and purchase important forest and grasslands for the future. Landmark legislation like the Land Revision Act of 1891 and Weeks Act, passed in 1911, helped establish some of the most visited, cherished and important lands in the country.
The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service is the lead agency tasked with managing and administering our vast national forests and grasslands. The agency conducted an extensive research project in 2010 and discovered there were more than 173 million recreational visits to our country's national forests and grasslands that year alone. An additional 300 million people drove by just to view the scenery and wildlife in these forests. The study also found that visitors spent $13 billion in communities within a 50-mile radius of the national forests and grasslands they visited. Those dollars help sustain almost a quarter of a million jobs in rural America.
An estimated 63 million acres — approximately 33 percent — of our national forests and grasslands are home to wild turkeys. As part of its stewardship efforts, the Forest Service has improved more than 2.6 million acres of wild turkey habitat on national forests and grasslands in the past 10 years. They are primarily upland forestry projects that not only benefit wild turkeys, but also other economically and socially important game species such as bobwhite quail, grouse, woodcock, cottontail rabbits and white-tailed deer. They also directly benefit, and in many situations are strategically targeted at, nongame upland species like red-cockaded woodpeckers, golden-winged warblers, gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, spotted owls, goshawks and many other threatened or endangered species.
Through partnerships with groups like the NWTF, the Forest Service has spent $60 million on wild turkey conservation and associated habitats. That's 3,100 projects benefitting upland wildlife, improving forest health, protecting critical resources and providing aesthetically breathtaking opportunities to enjoy Mother Nature's splendor.
Built on a handshake
The relationship between the Forest Service and the NWTF dates back to the beginning of our organization. We've done some wonderful and historic things for wildlife in the last 30 years. Like most relationships, there have been some ups and a few downs as well. However, as professionals all dedicated to the common goal of conserving, protecting and improving God's great creation, we have prevailed and become arguably one of the strongest and most successful conservation partnerships in our nation's history.
The NWTF and Forest Service have not always agreed 100 percent on every issue as it relates to our forests and grasslands; however, we have always worked out our differences professionally. When other groups have chosen to publically litigate, threaten and push the Forest Service to make decisions based more on emotion than science, the NWTF has always respectfully worked these issues out for a resource strengthening compromise. It's a partnership built on mutual trust, peer-reviewed science and credibility. We've always had a "handshake" relationship with the leadership of the Forest Service, and we are committed to keeping it that way.
Partnerships make a difference
How does this partnership create more, better habitat and, in turn, more wild turkeys for you to hunt and enjoy? Through the NWTF's Hunting Heritage Super Fund and diverse grant projects, we commit thousands of dollars each year for completing habitat work on national forests. These projects vary from prescribed burning to timber thinning and establishing permanent wildlife openings. Almost 700 projects were completed through NWTF funding and assistance during the past five years.
In addition, the Forest Service provides partial funding through cooperative agreements for nine NWTF regional biologist positions, two NWTF program leaders and a Making Tracks liaison position. These cooperatively funded positions put millions of dollars on the ground each year for wildlife. In the past three years, they've also conducted almost 600 outreach events on national forests for the benefit of 20,000 youth, women and physically challenged participants.
The NWTF has recently become an even stronger and more functional partner with the Forest Service working through an innovative federal program called Stewardship Authority. The NWTF has quickly become one of the staunchest advocates of this program, which has completed stewardship projects in eight states, impacting more than 6,500 acres of upland habitat and put $1 million on the ground for wildlife. In the next five years, the NWTF plans to improve 23,000 acres of wildlife habitat in 16 states. This equates to $5 million put directly on the ground for wildlife species and habitats we can all hunt, use and enjoy.
The next time you stand at a Forest Service gate waiting to hear a thundering gobble shatter the morning stillness or simply enjoy a hike through a national forest, take a good look. Chances are there's an NWTF logo beside that Forest Service bold black lettering. And chances are even better that the habitat you're walking in was improved because of partnership.
Together we are strong and can truly make a difference for future generations.— James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D.