Turkey Federation highlights fundraising importance


Graphic courtesy of the National Wild Turkey Foundation

The National Wild Turkey Federation may have a small presence in Central Montana, but as Regional Director Jason Tarwater grows its memberships, he knows the benefits will be felt across the board. Well, at least across the wildlife.

“Good habitat, whether it’s for elk or for turkeys, is good for all species,” he said.

No, the NWTF doesn’t manage any public land. It does, however, donate to the organizations that do.

“The money we raise for projects comes basically through our banquet system,” Tarwater said. “The cool thing about us is it’s all volunteers raising money through local banquets.”

NWTF then funds land management projects, although Tarwater did say the presence of turkeys is a criteria. The formal application process identified several projects to support this year, including the Bureau of Land Management’s Lower Crooked Creek prescribed fire.

Mike Solheim, fuels specialist for the North Central Montana District, reported the burn promoted a safe, healthy habitat, reducing fuels and leaving behind a landscape that can support a mix of plants.

The spring burn took place roughly 10 miles north of Winnett, but Solheim and the BLM hope to cover an entire 50,000-acre region in the next decade. There’s a good reason, according to Solheim: Decades of fire suppression created densely forested areas with little diversity and a high risk for a “stand-replacing fire.”

“You could loose the entire forest,” he said. “It happens when you have a large accumulation of fuels that promote high-intensity and high-severity wildfires.”

Losing an entire forest loses the habitat to, according to Solheim.

“How can those things come back when all of their seed sources are gone?” he asked.

This controlled burn, as well as those in the future, are preventative measures. Measures, Solheim said, that couldn’t happen without donations.

“Groups like the NWTF and RMEF are huge,” he said. “They’ve helped out massively. It helps our important projects, but it benefits wildlife like turkey and elk, too, and greater numbers attract more sportsmen, leading to more money for the economic community. It’s a win-win across the board.”

Ron Wiseman, Judith Musselshell district ranger for the Forest Service, shared the sentiment.

“They’re very, very helpful,” he said. “A majority of this type of work probably wouldn’t get done at the scale we’re able to do it at now, with these funds.”

Wiseman is involved with another NWTF-funded project, the Little Snowy Mountains Restoration. The project aims to restore vegetation in the area and, according to Wiseman, is a lot of work.

“There is no [timeframe] for the project,” he explained. “It was a decision for over 11,000 acres, and it describes the conditions we would like to meet. As long as those conditions aren’t being met, we will continue doing work.”

Wiseman and other Forest Service staff are working to bring back a “dry-site ponderosa pine forest.” Right now, it’s an uncommon scene in the Little Snowies.

“An average person would look at that and see a field of grass with more than a handful of big trees,” he said. “By big trees, I mean 15-18 inch-plus diameters trees scattered through that. It wouldn’t look like a true meadow, but it would look more like a meadow than a forest.”

This habitat dotted the Little Snowies in the past, but Wiseman now sees something else in its place: bunches of little pines. Removing those, he said, will allow the original habitat to return. It will also help the species that use it, including turkeys.

“One of the habitats turkeys need is the big sorts of ponderosas and Douglas firs the project promotes,” Wiseman said. “They roost in them.”

He added the edges of meadows would provide perfect turkey forage. As much as NWTF funds have helped the project so far, Wiseman recognized the Federation’s role overall, too.

“While this project may focus on the Little Snowies restoration, the NWTF as well as other groups are very helpful across the whole forest,” Wiseman said.

For Tarwater, across the forest means across the species, too.

“When we do habitat, yeah, we’re focusing on turkeys a little bit, but the habitat work that we provide financial assistance to is helping everything across the board,” he said.



When do you think the snow will finally be melted in Lewistown?