On March 2, 2023, as part of the new 20-year national master stewardship agreement between the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and the USDA Forest Service, critical wildfire risk reduction and forest restoration work will soon be underway.
This is thanks to a galvanizing new sub-agreement centered in the agency’s Pacific Southwest Region (Region 5), which encompasses all of California. The critical work will be accomplished thanks to funding provided through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.
“Through our new master stewardship agreement with the Forest Service, we will address the most critical ecological challenges on our nation’s forests and grasslands,” NWTF co-CEO Kurt Dyroff said.
Wildfire risk reduction, wildlife habitat restoration, increasing carbon sequestration, enhancing water quantity and quality, assisting underserved communities, providing recreational opportunities — the benefits from the new Region 5 stewardship agreement are all-encompassing and will dovetail into bolstering other critical conservation priorities, including the Forest Service’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy and the NWTF’s Four Shared Values.
“As we begin to jumpstart this work and deliver our mission in the Klamath National Forest and throughout the Forest Service’s Region 5, we are beyond proud to showcase to our membership and the outdoor community at large our partnership with the Forest Service and the many far-reaching benefits of our collaborative efforts. The challenges our forests face concern all Americans; it is time for us to come together and ensure this work gets done,” he added.
The pilot project of the new agreement will focus on California’s Klamath National Forest, site of multiple recent catastrophic wildfires, including the 2022 McKinney Fire that caused four fatalities and consumed more than 50,000 acres in less than 36 hours, leaving a generational burn scar and causing overall ecological ruin to parts of the forest, worsened by subsequent flooding events and debris flows.
Likewise, the Antelope fire of 2021 burned 145,632 acres of forest with flame lengths reported to be over 100 feet.
Some of the first projects of the new agreement in Region 5 will occur in these areas and seek to make the forest more resilient to catastrophic wildfire.
These projects will include harvesting and hauling of hazardous fuels and timber that otherwise would exacerbate catastrophic wildfires. As part of the initial pilot, a portion of the timber removed from the forest will be transported by railcar to forest products mills in Wyoming, bolstering an important economic driver in the state’s Black Hills region.
The process of moving timber by railcar in previous years was viewed as an outdated method, as it was considered unprofitable for companies seeking to create forest products.
However, considering the immense ecological value (i.e., wildfire risk reduction, carbon optimization, watershed health, wildlife habitat, etc.), the process has the potential to set the precedent for getting fuels out of the forest and transformed into carbon-storing forest products.
“We are excited to reinvigorate this model of transporting fuels to be turned into forest products,” said Tom Spezze, NWTF national director of field conservation and state policy. “Our partners are excited to showcase this as a proof of concept that will set the stage for more critical work to follow.”
In addition to the timber transport initiative between California and Wyoming, the new Region 5 stewardship agreement includes an array of forest management practices, including shrub mowing, juniper mastication and plantation thinning.
Mowing decadent shrubs creates an irregular mosaic of wildlife cover and will be timed to encourage vigorous shrub re-sprouting in the spring, providing excellent forage for mule deer. Mowed areas also strengthen prescribed fire boundaries and wildfire containment.
This will help restore wildlife habitat, while increasing forest resilience to wildfire, insects and disease.
As part of the new stewardship agreement, additional projects in the Forest Service’s Region 5 will coalesce in the coming months that will continue the all-encompassing work.
“The Forest Service and the National Wild Turkey Federation are taking an innovative approach to support disadvantaged rural communities by maintaining critical industry infrastructure and mill capacity,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore.
“The inter-modal transportation of timber will support implementation of the Wildfire Crisis Strategy by increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration and wildfire mitigation across priority landscapes, as well as supporting the forest products industry well into the future,” he continued.
Since 1973, the National Wild Turkey Federation has invested over half a billion dollars into wildlife conservation and has conserved or enhanced over 22 million acres of critical wildlife habitat. The organization continues to drive wildlife conservation, forest resilience and robust recreational opportunities throughout the U.S. by working across boundaries on a landscape scale.
2023 is the NWTF’s 50th anniversary and an opportunity to propel the organization’s mission into the future while honoring its rich history. For its 50th 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 NWTF’s people; and raise $5 million to build toward a $50 million endowment for the future.
Featured photo courtesy of Darcy Daniels / NWTF.