EDGEFIELD, SC — Forests in Montana and the West are experiencing declining health due to many factors — fire suppression, severe drought, hot weather, insect infestation and disease — that have created tinderbox conditions. The new Big Sky Collaborative Forestry Initiative, jointly developed by the National Wild Turkey Federation and the USDA Forest Service, will help bring together partners and funding to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires, improve wildlife habitat, secure water clean, maintain access and recreation. opportunities and prepare communities in the forest interface for wildfires.
The NWTF has a longstanding relationship with the Forest Service and recognizes the importance of forest restoration to wild turkeys, other wildlife, and our communities and outdoor lifestyle. In the last 10 years alone, the NWTF has conserved or enhanced more than 4.4 million acres of wildlife habitat. The Big Sky Forestry Initiative and initial fundraising event will focus on forest restoration specifically in Montana.
“It’s a three-pronged effort,” said Elizabeth Dowling, director of development for the NWTF in the West. “The NWTF wants to put money, care and human resources to work in Montana.”
To help raise funds for the Big Sky Forestry Initiative, the NWTF is planning a launch event in Bozeman, Montana in the summer of 2023 to raise funds and showcase Montanans’ commitment to healthy forests.
“Details are yet to come, but rest assured our Big Sky launch event will be one for the books,” said Jason Tarwater, NWTF Regional Director for Montana. “[This will be] a party in the name of conserving Montana’s incredible natural resources, reducing catastrophic wildfires, and restoring landscapes with local partners.”
Montana’s forests were historically shaped by fire. However, uncharacteristic and catastrophic wildfires have drastically different outcomes.
Today’s fires are caused by a buildup of fuels resulting from more than 100 years of firefighting. Our hotter, drier weather is combining with severe droughts, insects, and disease, resulting in larger, more severe wildfires that convert habitat, reduce access to public lands, and affect our western way of life.
“Today’s wildfires start earlier and end later in the year,” said Patt Dorsey, director of conservation operations for the NWTF in the West. “They are more frequent, more serious and larger. These unusual wildfires are often devastating communities, wildlife habitats, the health of watersheds, and the overall ecological balance.
“In addition to funding, the USFS needs partners who can work with local communities and help implement projects,” added Dorsey. “The NWTF is a professionally staffed local membership-based organization in Montana. We stand ready to help the USFS, our longtime partner, increase the pace and scale of forest restoration.”
The NWTF’s four values include wildlife habitat, water supply, resilient communities, and accessible recreation.
“We look for projects that have shared values, multiple benefits and where we can engage multiple partners,” explained Dowling.
Projects eligible for funding and resources include the Bozeman Municipal Watershed Project, the Elkhorns Cooperative Management Area, and other wildlife management areas in the Bitterroot Valley region.
The Hyalite and Bozeman Creek watersheds are an important water supply for one of the fastest growing cities in the state, hosting more than 500,000 visitors a year. The Elkhorns Cooperative Management Area is one of the most popular hunting areas in Montana. The Bitterroot region includes six of the top 10 communities in Montana for wildfire risk, making it a high priority for protecting people, property, infrastructure, wildlife and other resources.
“We are proud to continue our partnership with the Forest Service and engage everyone who cares deeply about Montana’s rich natural resources and outdoor traditions in the shared stewardship conservation model,” said Dorsey. “The whole town is needed.”
For more information about the kick-off fundraiser and to see how you can contribute to the Big Sky Forestry Initiative as a partner, donor or sponsor, contact Jason Tarwater at [email protected] or (785) 221-6515 or Elizabeth Dowling at [email protected].
Register Now for the BSFI Launch Fundraiser
About the National Wild Turkey Federation
When the National Wild Turkey Federation was founded in 1973, there were about 1.3 million wild turkeys in North America. After decades of work, that number reached an all-time high of nearly 7 million turkeys. To be successful, the NWTF supported science-based conservation and hunter rights. Today, NWTF is focused on the future of hunting and conservation through Save the Habitat. Save the hunt. initiative. Since 2012, this 10-year initiative has already eclipsed goals to conserve or enhance more than 4 million acres of essential wildlife habitat, recruit or retain more than 1.5 million hunters, and open access to more than 500,000 acres for hunting and other recreational opportunities. This critical work will continue to impact wildlife habitat and our outdoors in the final year of the initiative.