The wild turkey has been a staple of American tradition since the 1500s, but its survival has not always been certain.
Native only to North and Central America, the wild turkey was discovered by Europeans in Mexico in the early 1500s.
By the 1930s, the wild turkey population was at less than 30,000 birds; a victim of market hunting, subsistence hunting and widespread habitat destruction.
Over the next 50 years, state wildlife agencies funded by hunters’ dollars and working with the National Wild Turkey Federation, captured more than 200,000 wild turkeys and released them in quality wild turkey habitat.
Today there are more than 7 million wild turkeys roaming the woodlands and river-bottoms across the country.
“You want me to wake up at what time to fish?” This was the first sentence I clearly remember saying to my new boss Christen Duxbury when she told me the itinerary for the TRCP staff retreat.
I had started as the TRCP communications intern the week before, and while I grew up in northwestern Pennsylvania and loved fishing for bluegill, waking up at 4 a.m. to fish with my boss and coworkers was not my idea of fun.
Unable to feign illness, I showed up and joined the rest of the team in the quest for stripers. And while I was not exactly bright-eyed and bushy tailed, it was my first glimpse into what I signed up for with the TRCP. The level of dedication and enthusiasm present among TRCP staff was palpable.
Some work the daily 9-5 grind to collect a paycheck – TRCP staffers work around the clock because they deeply care about their work. Each one would rather be romping around the great outdoors with a gun or a pole in hand. Instead, more than half of TRCP employees are surrounded by concrete and cubicles in Washington, D.C. These staffers have the foresight to recognize that by coming into work every day they are helping ensure future generations of sportsmen quality places to hunt and fish – and that if they failed to show up, hunting and fishing would remain at risk.
Throughout my seven-month internship I worked with people like Brandon Helm, who watches a video of a trout stream each morning for inspiration to keep influencing policy for the benefits of sportsmen and the fish and wildlife upon which they depend. Or Duxbury, the public-lands hunting, trail-running bundle of energy who keeps the outdoor community informed about conservation policy. And Bob Hale, TRCP’s numbers man, who takes afternoon walks around the city to escape his office.
I thought I knew hunting and fishing enthusiasts growing up, but working at the TRCP revealed to me a new level of dedication. These people possess enthusiasm not just for the outdoor experience but also for the prolonged conservation and well-being of outdoor resources in this country. Working for the TRCP was an eye-opening experience, not just because of how much I learned professionally, but because the contagious passion of the staff members.
Mapping Project Brings on-the-Ground Results for Sportsmen
Involving the American sportsman in issues that affect our hunting and fishing heritage is fundamental to maintaining our outdoor heritage. Here at the TRCP we try and ensure sportsman involvement occurs at a level where impacts and results tend to be clear and immediate. To this end, the TRCP has developed a state-specific approach to capture input from local hunters and anglers called the Sportsmen Values Mapping Project.
As part of the project, TRCP staff members meet with sporting groups, conservation organizations and rod and gun clubs to identify “bread and butter” hunting and fishing areas in various states. You might wonder why anyone would reveal a favorite honey. When combined with critical habitat maps already in use by federal and state agencies, this information provides a powerful tool for politicians and decision-makers to use in public lands management.
The project’s goal is ensuring sportsmen are represented in management decisions by highlighting the exact areas they want to see managed for the continued and future use of hunting and fishing.
The success of the mapping project has earned recognition both at home and abroad and is largely held as a case study on how sportsmen can participate in land management and public policy. Recently, TRCP Center for Responsible Energy Development Director Ed Arnett gave a presentation about the project at the Conference on Wind Power and Environmental Impacts. The conference, held in Stockholm, Sweden, was attended by more than 300 people from at least 30 countries.
During the presentation, Arnett highlighted the project as tool for wind energy developers and decision-makers to use in identifying key, high-use areas warranting special conservation strategies and in avoiding conflict with sportsmen and other stakeholders. As presented, the mapping project provides valuable and previously unavailable data that will aid in balancing energy development with the needs of fish, wildlife and sportsmen.
As Arnett returns from the international conference, he continues to ensure that decision-makers balance the needs of fish, wildlife and sportsmen with the impacts of land-use management decisions across all economic sectors to ensure a strong economy into the future. The TRCP Sportsmen Values Mapping Project is critically important to achieving that balance.
The project is expected to grow in the coming years. In Wyoming, Western Outreach Director Neil Thagard will be returning to those communities that participated in the project to present results and develop opportunities for place-based, grassroots campaigns to protect areas important to sportsmen. The TRCP plans to expand the mapping project to more western states in the near future.
As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.