Continuation of more than two decades of habitat improvements

EDGEFIELD, SC — The NWTF is continuing its challenge cost-share agreement with the USDA Forest Service on Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest.

The NWTF challenge cost-share agreement with Green Mountain National Forest dates back two decades. Over the years, collaborative efforts have resulted in hundreds of acres of wild turkey habitat improvements and overall biodiversity enhancement throughout the national forest.

The GMNF has a Land and Resource Management Plan that sets a goal for up to 5% of the forest to be managed as permanent upland openings. Achieving that goal is complex, and that’s where the NWTF steps in to partner with the Forest Service and support their management priorities while creating great habitat for wildlife.

A permanent opening in the Green Mountain National Forest that is part of the forest’s Land and Resource Management Plan.

“One of Green Mountain National Forest’s whole forest composition goals is to maintain and restore the quality, quantity and distribution of habitats that produce viable and sustainable populations of desirable native and non-native plants and wildlife,” said Scott Wixsom, Forest Service biological technician.

Maintenance of these forest objectives is accomplished through management techniques such as planting pollinator-friendly grasses, using equipment to cover undesirable woody vegetation, and prescribed burning to open up the understory and let in sunlight. On the Green Mountain National Forest, much of this work is done specifically to create and manage clearings for wildlife.

Typically ranging from 5 to 20 acres, wildlife openings are relatively small openings in the forest that offer diversity to the forest composition. Ongoing maintenance prevents undesirable vegetation from gradually regrowing openings back into mature forest, where more expensive solutions and mechanized equipment are required to revitalize the opening to the desired condition.

The Pike Hollow project near Stratton, Vermont, is a recent demonstration of the restoration of a reforested opening in early successional habitat and the cyclical work required to maintain it.

In 2019, the NWTF and the Forest Service collaborated to restore a 10-acre forest opening. Initially large management efforts were required. A “brontosaurus” mulching attachment and an excavator were used to fell the trees. The team efficiently reduced an 8-inch-diameter tree into wood chips.

Excavator with “Brontosaurus” accessory.

The project site was followed up with controlled burns in the spring of 2023 and the results have been exceptional.

“We do a lot of prescribed burns for the benefit of wildlife and maintenance of wildlife openings,” said Robert Goulding, assistant fire management officer for the Green Mountain National Forest Service. “Our goals are to maintain openings for wildlife in an early to mid-successional habitat type, reduce thatch cover and soil fuels to promote grass, berry and forb responses, encourage pollinator habitat, and in doing so, also reduce our hazardous fuel load within burned units, making them less susceptible to unwanted wildfires.”

A wildlife opening in the Green Mountain National Forest.

In addition to the benefits Goulding noted, using prescribed burns as a management tool provides wild turkeys with the essential feeding and breeding habitat they need to raise poults year after year.

“When we create clearings in the woods, we are diversifying the habitat types for wild turkeys,” said Matt DiBona, NWTF New England district biologist. “While wild turkeys need mature trees to perch on and dense vegetation to evade predators, they also rely on the benefits of open forests. The native herbaceous and herbaceous vegetation promoted by our management efforts makes great nesting habitat for chickens. What’s more, it attracts insects, and this is very important when you consider that wild poults require an almost entirely insect-based diet for the first two weeks after hatching. The low-growing vegetation also allows small poults to feed and remain hidden from predators.”

Through the partnership with the Green Mountain National Forest, the NWTF has impacted hundreds of acres that are essential to wild turkeys, while improving overall biodiversity. It would not happen without the collaboration.

“Our partnership with NWTF allows us to raise awareness of the importance of providing critical wildlife habitat through direct, hands-on outreach and management with local chapters,” Wixsom said. “Our partnership has allowed each of us to leverage funds through grants, donations, and national agreements, allowing us to put funds directly into practices on the ground. NWTF biologists also provide technical expertise and support in project planning and implementation. During large-scale land management public meetings, the NWTF has worked diligently as a liaison between private landowners and the Green Mountain National Forest as we strive to meet our collective habitat goals.”

About the National Wild Turkey Federation

Since 1973, the National Wild Turkey Federation has invested more than half a billion dollars in wildlife conservation and has conserved or improved more than 22 million acres of critical wildlife habitat. The organization continues to advance wildlife conservation, forest resiliency, and robust recreational opportunities across the US by working beyond borders at the landscape scale.

2023 is the 50th of the NWTF he anniversary and an opportunity to push the organization’s mission into the future while honoring its rich history. for his 50 he anniversary, the NWTF has set six ambitious goals: positively impact 1 million acres of wildlife habitat; raise $500,000 for wild turkey research; increase membership to 250,000 members; dedicate $1 million to education and outreach programs; raise $5 million to invest in technology and the people of NWTF; and raise $5 million to build a $50 million endowment for the future. Find out how you can help us achieve these lofty goals.