PARK RAPIDS, Minnesota – Wild turkeys and other varieties of wild animals benefit from a partnership between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Park Rapids Tall Pine Toms chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
According to a DNR news release, the TPT has conducted habitat improvement projects for the past two years on 796 acres of state forest land around Park Rapids.
The projects were designed to improve current and future turkey habitat, while also benefiting other species such as deer, bears, squirrels, partridges, grouse and songbirds.
Activities included clearing brush to eliminate competition and encourage oak regeneration, planting oak as a future food source, and planting pine seedlings for future roost sites.
Dano Crandall, President of the TPT, explained that when forests have trees that are too old and the undergrowth becomes overgrown, it is not good as a habitat.
“There are areas where we’ve literally cut down every species of tree and then replanted in a species that enhances animals to come to that area and use it,” he said. “Deer grazing on the trees. They don’t like pine needles, but in desperate times they eat pine needles. They prefer aspen and popple for eating. Turkeys – acorns from your oaks, they eat a lot of them, (so do) deer, rabbits, squirrels.
In the spring, Crandall said, poults (young turkeys) live off insects, and some flowering trees promote insect activity. “You need grassland for the grasshoppers and insects for the poults to feed on.”
Habitat management, research and partnerships between the DNR and the NWTF have created healthy wild turkey populations and excellent hunting opportunities in Minnesota, the DNR statement said.
Crandall said the club hired contractors to do the actual work on county and state forest lands. “They come in and they cut down the trees they don’t want there, and then they replant oak,” he said. “If there are oak trees growing there, they clean up the old trees so that the younger ones can grow.
“You know, an acorn falls in the woods and it will start to grow into an oak tree. But if you have 20 or 30 foot tall pines with a really big canopy, that oak tree won’t grow. So they’re going to improve that area to that the oak can grow.
According to the DNR release, the Hubbard County projects were funded by a $13,000 grant from the NWTF Super Fund, which in turn served as 10% matching to leverage approximately $120,000 of the Conservation Partners funding. Legacy (CPL). This comes from the Outdoor Heritage Fund through Minnesota’s 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.
Crandall credited former DNR employee Tom Stursa with writing the grants and focusing them on and around Hubbard County.
Working behind the scenes
Crandall said local hunt clubs, including the Tall Pine Toms as well as the Park Rapids Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, have done a lot of work that goes unrecognized by the general public.
“We’ve walked a lot of trails,” he said. “There are some three in Smoky Hills. I went through them. They just walk in and clear a path. They plant seeds there, be it wheat, rye, or mixed grasses, and it’s a walking trail for hunters. And it’s not just a hunter that can walk on it; anyone can walk on it. You can’t drive on it. And you just crossed and walked through the woods.
Crandall described a trail in the Smoky Hills State Forest that leads to a series of large clearings carpeted with natural grasses. “It’s just a place where deer and turkeys and animals can have lunch, instead of being overgrown with forest,” he said.
Habitat benefits wildlife, people
When habitat is threatened, he says, people will see more animals in town because that’s where the food is. “There’s more pressure,” he said. “You start to develop development in these areas, and there will be no more habitat for animals.”
Crandall called the results of the habitat projects benefits for hunters, for people who like to walk in the woods, and for wildlife.
“It’s for anyone who wants to get out and enjoy nature,” he said. “You can walk down one of these paths and come to one of these openings, and boom! There’s three, four deer. There’s five, six turkeys. A partridge flew away. Things that you won’t see them in town, but they’re there, and that’s for everyone to enjoy.
Crandall said clubs will continue to do similar things, and he’s 100 per cent behind it. Chapters aren’t just nonprofits that collect and distribute money, he said, but “we’re for the hunter. We’re for everyone to enjoy nature.
Get involved and be outside
He said you don’t have to be a hunter to get involved with local deer and turkey clubs. “You can come to our banquets and win prizes and things. This helps us raise funds to carry out these projects.
He said trail maps are available from the DNR, but said you can spot the trails in the state forest as they are blocked by vehicle traffic. “Just take a walk. You will see nature everywhere.