The Black Kettle Wildlife Management Area in Roger Mills Co. is more valuable for turkeys today than it was just a few months ago thanks to a joint project conducted recently by state and federal governments and an important conservation group.
The effort involved using two large machines to "chew up" the overgrown understory of 85-100
"This was a joint effort between the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Wild Turkey Federation," said Scott Parry, Wildlife Department biologist stationed over Black Kettle WMA. "The reason we want to do this is that Rio Grande turkeys like to roost in mature trees, primarily cottonwoods. The cottonwoods in these areas were getting grown up with mostly eastern red cedar and brush. I think over the next few years, with a little bit of maintenance on these areas, we'll see these sites being long term usable turkey roosting areas and generally good turkey habitat."
The land-clearing process, called "mastication," removes the brush and undesirable trees around the stands of cottonwoods, allowing turkeys to navigate the newly opened ground more efficiently and access the roosting sites in the cottonwood limbs above. Before the project, the understory was very dense with brush, red cedar and other undesirable growth that reduced wild turkeys' ability to use the otherwise ideal habitat.
"Now, turkeys can immediately start making use of the area," Parry said.
Additionally, a freshly mulched ground is left behind that can receive ample sunlight to grow a range of native grasses and weeds, or "forbs." Next spring, when vegetation begins to sprout, the new growth should help attract insects that wild turkeys eat.
The Black Kettle WMA covers over 30,000 acres near Cheyenne. Located in the mixed grass prairie, it is made up of a mixture of rolling sand hills, red shale hills and wooded bottoms. It is owned by the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that manages public lands in national forests and grasslands. The Forest Service partners with the Wildlife Department to offer the area as a WMA for sportsmen.
"This is a real exciting project that we have going on here where we've grouped up our resources and our energy with Forest Service, the state Wildlife Department and the National Wild Turkey Federation to do some turkey roost regeneration areas," said Tom Smeltzer, district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service who oversees Black Kettle National Grasslands. "It should make a real neat place for the sportsmen of Oklahoma."
More information on the Forest Service can be found at www.fs.fed.us.
Joint partnerships such as the one at Black Kettle WMA are a crucial part of conserving wildlife and habitat on public lands. There are more than 65 public hunting areas in Oklahoma and more than 1.6 million acres across the state devoted to hunters and anglers. The Department maintains working relationships with a number of conservation groups and other state and federal agencies to ensure that these lands are conserved for future generations. The project at Black Kettle is an important example of what can be done when these partnerships come together for important conservation causes.
"Long term plans are to continue joint funding for this work to directly benefit habitat for wild turkeys, bobwhite quail, white-tailed deer, and non-game wildlife on one of the most popular public hunting areas in western Oklahoma," said Gene Miller, NWTF regional biologist stationed in Canyon, Texas.
The National Wild Turkey Federation has been an invaluable long-term partner of the Wildlife Department. With more than 50 Oklahoma chapters, the NWTF has spent over $1 million in Oklahoma in recent decades on things like wildlife habitat enhancements, land purchases, education, outreach and more within the state.
Miller said the recent brush-clearing project fits perfectly with the NWTF's new "Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt." initiative, which seeks to conserve/enhance 4 million acres, create. 1.5 million new hunters and open an additional 500,000 acres of of new, high quality hunting lands across the nation to sportsmen over the next several years.
Miller said more information on "Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt." can be found online at http://www.nwtf.org/Save-the-Habitat-Save-the-Hunt/.