Wisconsin's National Wild Turkey Federation Chapters, working for turkeys and turkey enthusiasts
"Bob Putney, of Mukwonago, was our first state president," Burke said. "When we first got started, Wisconsin was in the throes of a new turkey program, and we assisted the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with research on mycoplasmosis, an infectious disease that can affect turkey reproduction. The state wanted to make sure that the turkeys we were importing from Missouri were free from disease."
Burke and Ron Nicklaus, both DNR staffers at the time, were enlisted to develop a turkey hunter education program, modeled after the state's hunter education program, but geared specifically to turkey hunting. Since there was no history of modern turkey hunting in Wisconsin, the DNR wanted to make sure first-time turkey hunters had the information they needed for a safe and successful hunt. That program, modified over the years since, continues today. This year, 37 free clinics are being offered in 25 counties.
"The state chapter supports programs that further the twofold mission of the NWTF, which is to promote conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation of the hunting tradition," Burke said.
Soon after the state chapter was formed, turkey enthusiasts began creating local chapters. The first of these was the Romance Chapter, founded in 1981. Next came the Kettle Moraine, Meadow Valley and God's Country (Tomah) chapters. Since then, state NWTF membership has grown to over 25,000. By year's end, Burke expects Wisconsin will have over 30,000 members. There are now over 100 local chapters around the state. These chapters sponsor fund-raising banquets and a variety of other activities, from Landowner Appreciation Days to outings geared toward women and youths.
"Money raised by local chapters go into a state Super Fund account," Burke said. "The state chapter administers that account for the local chapters. Our budget for this year is $325,000, which will fund probably 250 projects statewide."
The state chapter's administration is quite cost-effective. Of the funds raised at local events, 56 percent are returned to the state chapter Super Fund and 24 percent to the national NWTF Super Fund. Funds in the national account are then distributed back to state resource management agencies for national and regional projects on turkey research and management. To date, Wisconsin has received some $200,000 from the NWTF Super Fund. Technical representatives from each state rate proposed projects, and funds are distributed accordingly
Projects funded by the state chapter Super Fund range from habitat work to programs for landowners, young hunters and women, turkey hunting clinics and scholarships.
One popular activity is known as "SOS," for Set Out Seedlings. Local chapters set out some 150,000 northern red oak, white oak, high-bush cranberry, green ash, hawthorn and crab apple seedlings last year. The mix changes every year to provide variety.
"This program addresses long-term habitat needs in the northern latitudes of turkey range," Burke said. "We plant trees and shrubs that produce a mast crop every year."
The chapter's Conservation Seed Program provides seed for food plots. This month, 500,000 pounds of corn, grain, sorghum, sunflower and soybean seeds will be distributed to local chapters through cooperating Gander Mountain stores. Burke estimates last year's 400,000 pounds of seed resulted in 20,000 acres of food plots.
The state Super Fund also buys machinery. Last year, the state chapter bought a tree planter, an herbicide sprayer, a rotary mower, a prairie seed stripper and three plot masters. These were turned over to land conservation organizations and local sportsmen's clubs. The use of these machines is scheduled and coordinated by DNR wildlife and forestry staff.
NWTF funds also help the DNR buy land. Last year, the state Super Fund bought 47 acres in Racine County for the Honey Creek Wildlife Area. Since 1981, state NWTF funds have purchased nearly 500 acres. These properties are turned over to the DNR, with a guarantee that they will be managed for wildlife and open to hunting in perpetuity.
Last year, the Super Fund also funded 16 local habitat projects on 1,400 acres, ranging from oak savannah restoration to buckthorn control and post-timber sale inventories.
Last year, local chapters also conducted 14 Landowner Appreciation Day programs, 26 Jakes events for youths, 10 Learn-to-Hunt programs for 300 first-time hunters and 30 programs under the "Women in the Outdoors" banner for over 700 women. Scholarships presented by 36 local chapters and the state chapter totaled $10,000 last year.
Burke is especially proud of the "Education Box" curriculum program that provides materials for state school teachers to use as they see fit in their classes. To date, some 1,200 boxes have been distributed. The state chapter's Super Fund pays the $50 cost for each box.
Last year, the state chapter distributed 2,500 gun locks to hunter education students. The chapter also funds a reward program for people who provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of hunting regulations violators.
The state chapter's Hunting Heritage Project supports youth shooting instruction programs with grants like the $5,000 pledged annually to the 4-H Shooting Sports Program. This is the largest organized youth shooting program in the state, with some 5,000 kids participating annually.
The state chapter also supports efforts of the United States Sportsmen's Alliance to preserve hunting and provide new hunting opportunities, such as the dove hunting initiative. And the chapter donates $10,000 annually to the National Shooting Sports Foundation to help protect and promote the future of the shooting sports industry.
The NWTF and its state and local chapters have come a long way, and they have a bright future, Burke believes.
"When I started, there were two regional directors," he said. "I was one and the other was a guy in North Carolina. Today there are about 70 regional directors, a dozen women's coordinators and a similar number of regional biologists.
"Since 1981, state chapters have raised and spent over $2.5 million on wild turkey Super Fund projects. Last year in Wisconsin, we had a 22-percent growth in both dollars raised and membership," he said. "Interest in turkey hunting here is at an all-time high. There is strong interest among sportsmen in expanding turkey range in the northern counties, but for now this will take a back seat to other programs, like chronic wasting disease management."
Six staff members support NWTF activities in Wisconsin, four regional directors, who coordinate fund-raising and membership services; a regional biologist, who also serves five other states; and a women's regional coordinator.
The state NWTF convention, set for Jan. 9-11, 2004, at the Country Inn in Waukesha, is a good place to get a flavor of the NWTF and its local chapters.
Information on state and national NWTF programs is available on the foundation's web site, www.nwtf.org. Click on "In Your State" on the NWTF home page and follow the prompts to state staff and local chapters.