The NWTF Annual Convention & Sports Show in Nashville is the perfect start to the spring turkey season, and that’s especially true for Florida, the first of 49 states to open its spring turkey season. (Learn more about the 2023 seasons.)
And while Floridians and non-residents alike are gearing up to hunt some of the best turkey available in the country, it’s the perfect time to reflect on a turkey conservation program in the Sunshine State that makes it all possible.
Since the Wild Turkey Cost Share Program began in 1994, it has contributed more than $6 million to habitat management projects and is estimated to contribute more than $2.2 million to our favorite game bird by 2023. In addition, the program is powered by turkey hunters.
“Turkey hunters are an important part of the Cost Share program,” said Buddy Welch, coordinator of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s wild turkey management program. “Money generated from the sale of turkey permits, which are required to hunt wild turkeys in Florida (unless exempt), allows the FWC to make significant contributions to the program each year.”
In addition to the contribution from the turkey hunters and FWC, the Florida State Chapter of the NWTF, the Florida Forest Service, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Foundation pool their funds to fund numerous public land projects throughout the state each anus. The projects directly benefit wild turkeys, but also improve the overall health of the ecosystem.
Projects take place in wildlife management areas, state forests, water management district lands, national forests, and national wildlife refuges. They include a variety of forest management practices, including prescribed burning, mowing, treating invasive species, and creating openings for wildlife, among others, that mimic natural disturbances and create the early successional habitat in which they thrive. wild turkeys and many other species.
Early successional habitats are areas with vigorously growing grasses, herbs, shrubs, and trees that provide excellent food and cover for wild turkeys and many other species.
“We are proud of the well-oiled machine that the Wild Turkey Cost-Share Program has become,” said Eddie Hatch, president of the NWTF Florida State Chapter. “When multiple partners are deeply involved in a shared vision, the results are extraordinary. Our contributions to all of these great projects would not be possible without our Florida members participating in our banquets and helping us raise funds on behalf of conservation. We look forward to seeing all the work unfold throughout the year.”
In the first year of the program, back in 1994, $15,000 was made available to finance six habitat projects. By 2023, the hunter-driven program has grown to provide more than $2 million to 28 conservation projects and is projected to provide more than $2 million annually to conservation projects for years to come.
“We’ve definitely created something special for wild turkey in Florida,” said Ricky Lackey, NWTF district biologist for Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. “Since 2012, we have conserved more than 824,000 acres of wild turkey habitat in Florida. This multi-partner conservation delivery mechanism should be an example for states seeking to expand their wild turkey habitat conservation delivery. It really takes the whole team to make it work.”
In addition to the 28 Wild Turkey Cost Share Program projects completed this year, the NWTF Florida State Chapter helped fund new Osceola research conducted by FWC and the University of Florida. Learn more about the new research project here.