Wild turkeys in a snow-swept Ohio field
These wild turkeys are shown here in a snow-swept Ohio field.

COLUMBUS — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has announced a statewide effort focused on creating and improving upland bird habitat in Ohio.

Private landowners and producers can apply for funding through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Applications for EQIP are taken on a continuous basis.

However, interested landowners are encouraged to contact their local NRCS office prior to the anticipated Feb. 16, 2024, sign-up deadline for fiscal year 2024 funding.

“A renewed focus on creating and improving nesting and brood-rearing habitat will provide a much-needed boost for Ohio’s upland game bird populations,” said Kendra Wecker, Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife chief.

With upland bird populations declining, diverse quality habitats are critical, making private landowner actions key in creating and maintaining complex habitat requirements to help the birds thrive.

Habitat types including woody edges, native grass field borders and shrubby cover provide nesting, brood-rearing and loafing areas to bolster upland bird populations.

Habitat value depends on the quality, quantity and interspersion of food, water, cover and living space.

With the EQIP, landowners can place multiple conservation practices on the landscape to address these needs.

The NWTF supports the effort and will lend a hand implementing the program.

“The NWTF works hand in hand with our state, federal and nongovernmental organization partners, as well as private landowners, to conserve wild turkeys and their habitats and preserve our hunting heritage,” NWTF District Biologist Ryan Boyer said.

“Thanks to these robust partnerships, we can collectively promote healthy and sustainable wild turkey and upland bird populations through active management and provide private landowners with the resources they need to confidently and successfully manage their lands with support through EQIP.”

The NWTF Ohio State Chapter is also providing critical funds to an ODNR and Ohio State University research project to address declines.

“Private landowner involvement plays such an important role in preserving these species loved by hunters and other recreationalists,” said John Wilson, Ohio NRCS state conservationist.

“With the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, we can help landowners place conservation practices on their land that will make a measurable difference in upland game-bird habitats.”

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever also fully support the conservation program’s goals in creating and protecting upland game-bird habitat.

“Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are committed to improving upland habitat in Ohio and are excited about this opportunity landowners have to use EQIP funding for their next project!” said Cody Grasser, Pheasants and Quail Forever state coordinator.

“Ohio’s upland bird populations depend on private lands, and programs like EQIP are a great way to deliver quality habitat where it is needed.

“In partnership with NRCS, ODNR Division of Wildlife and other organizations, we look forward to helping implement this program and assisting private landowners to improve the future of upland birds in Ohio.”

The Ruffed Grouse Society and the American Woodcock Society are also proud collaborators.

“Established in 1961, the Ruffed Grouse Society is dedicated to creating healthy forests, abundant wildlife and promoting a conservation ethic,” said Jon Steigerwaldt, Ruffed Grouse and American Woodcock Society forest conservation director.

“Together with the American Woodcock Society (established in 2014), RGS and AWS work with private landowners, forest products industry partners and government agencies to establish critical wildlife habitat utilizing scientific management practices.

“That is why RGS and AWS support the ‘Birds of a Feather’ EQIP funding announced to improve habitat in Ohio. We feel this is a positive step toward improving upland bird habitat where ruffed grouse were at one time more abundant.”

NRCS conservation practices, including wildlife habitat plantings, early successional habitat development and invasive species removal, are among the key practices available to promote important wildlife habitat.

Landowners who implement these practices help promote upland bird habitat and enhance their property value to other species such as songbirds, white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbits and pollinators.

Landowners interested in EQIP funding to improve upland bird habitat should reach out to their local Ohio USDA service center or visit the Ohio NRCS EQIP webpage for more details.

For more information on technical assistance, contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife management consultant or Pheasants Forever Farm Bill biologist to learn more.

National Wild Turkey Federation

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 resiliency 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. Learn how you can help us reach these lofty goals.