My parents first bought their home in Ahwahnee a couple decades back. I would drive up to visit them frequently. During that time I never saw any wild turkeys - not until I moved to Eastern Madera County myself almost three years ago. Since then I have been thrilled to see flocks of turkeys nearly every day.
Watching the Toms fight and show their impressive display of tail feathers, and watching the flocks wander and roost has been a particular joy in my daily commute.
What caused this change? It is due in large part to the efforts of one small but dedicated conservation organization, the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). When they were founded in 1973 there were, according to their website, only 1.5 million wild turkeys in the lower 48 states. Today there are over seven million. A remarkable achievement for a group that boasts only 250,000 members.
However the work is not done. Turkey populations are still declining and 15% lower than the historic high, primarily due to loss of habitat, with more than 6,000 acres of wildlife habitat being lost every day. This puts not only wild turkeys but other wildlife in danger as well. It also endangers the sport of responsible hunting.
With their “Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt” initiative the National Wild Turkey Federation is at the forefront of this conservation effort.
To that end the High Sierra Yelpers Chapter of the NWTF is leading the charge in the Western Sierras. With the money they’ve raised they have been responsible for such projects as the Kinsman Flat Wildlife area where they donated 20,000 acres of land, brushed the area and relocated wild turkeys to the enhanced habitat.
Keith Swope, a 20-year member and president of the High Sierra Yelpers Chapter for the past 15 years, is excited about prospects for the future.
“The NWTF is a national conservation organization, but 65% of all money raised stays in California and much of it is used in Madera County,” Swope said. “In fact the NWTF and the California Deer Association are the only two groups actively doing conservation work in the Western Sierras.”
Annual banquet June 4
The 20th Annual High Sierra Yelpers Banquet, the largest fundraiser of the year, will be held at 6 p.m., Saturday, June 4, at the Oakhurst Community Center. The event raised about $18,000 last year.
“This is a fun, family event the includes a full barbeque dinner, a live and silent auction, a large outdoor-oriented raffle and games to win guns,” Swope said. “We usually give away about 32 and 35 guns, so with only 250 seats available the odds of winning a gun worth up to $1,500 are pretty good.”
Tickets cost $70 per person, $100 per couple, and $40 for JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship - 17 and under). Every ticket purchased will also include a membership in the NWTF. Every young person, or JAKES will be guaranteed a prize at the dinner.
“There are three million turkey hunters in the U.S. today… If we could enroll all of them in the NWTF we could make a huge difference protecting the habitat, increasing wildlife populations and preserving the tradition of responsible hunting.” Swope said. “If you care about the environment, love the outdoors and cherish the American tradition of hunting, attending the banquet is the perfect way to show your support and have a great evening out as well.”
Anyone interested in sponsorship opportunities for the banquet can contact Swope.
Details: Yelpers banquet, 6 p.m., Saturday, June 4, Oakhurst Community Center, 39800 Road 425B, tickets, Keith Swope, (559) 676-1972. Tickets not available at the door.