From the 1920s through the early 1950s, the population of wild turkeys dwindled across the American landscape. By the 1960s, state wildlife agencies began research and strict management of wild turkeys. The turkey population in several states increased.
Alabama was instrumental in helping states restore turkey populations. The population of wild turkeys was strong in our state, and birds were trapped and released in other states to bolster the turkey numbers. Restocking efforts soon saw progress. But there was more to be done.
In 1973, the National Wild Turkey Federation was established. The NWTF began to set up state and local chapters to promote conservation, habitat management and help restore turkey numbers. In 1991, 49 states had a spring turkey hunting season. Alaska is the only state that does not have a turkey population.
“One of our initiatives is ‘Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt,’” said Susan Delk of the NWTF headquarters in Edgefield, S.C. “Over the 10-year initiative, the NWTF hopes to conserve or enhance four-million acres of habitat.”
Every day we lose around 6,000 acres of habitat. Saving the habitat not only helps the wild turkey population, but also benefits other wildlife species. Quail, rabbits, deer and songbirds reap the rewards of saving the habitat. Hunters are a big part of conservation and habitat improvements.
Conservation depends on hunters who pay for 80 percent of conservation efforts through license sales and a self-imposed tax on firearms, ammunition and other related items. NWTF is a major partner with state wildlife agencies in retaining and recruiting hunters.
“Local chapters use auction banquets to raise funds for conservation,” said Clint Gallahar with the NWTF Choccolocco Valley Longbeards in Oxford. “A majority of the funds raised are put back into the local chapters and state events.”
Gallahar said the Choccolocco Valley Longbeard Chapter uses their funds to help generate new hunters, youth dove and deer hunts, Jakes events for youth, and scholarships. Also, funds from NWTF have been used to purchase equipment for local wildlife management areas and habitat improvements on public land like the National Forest.
Last year the NWTF allocated $142,464 in Hunting Heritage Super Funds and Tag Funds for wild turkey projects in Alabama. Of that total, $68,265 was donated to the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries to fund projects including wildlife habitat management. Approximately half of that amount will be received in federal matching dollars.
Across the United States and Canada, there are 1,609 heritage banquet events with over 180,000 attendees. The NWTF boasts of over 230,000 members worldwide. Local heritage events include live and silent auctions for turkey gear, collectable artwork, firearms and more. And there is always plenty of food.
You can be part of this American conservation initiative by attending the annual NWTF banquet and auction sponsored by the Choccolocco Valley Longbeard Chapter on March 2. The event will be held at Juke Box Event Center on Elm Street in Oxford. Doors will open at 6 p.m.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.nwtf.org/events.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at firstname.lastname@example.org