Good afternoon! It’s a pleasure to be here, and an honor to have been invited to say a few words.
As you know, our work at the Forest Service is all about conservation. Our mission is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands for the benefit of present and future generations.” We have been pursuing our conservation mission for 112 years now, since the time of visionary conservation leaders like President Theodore Roosevelt.
But we have never been in this alone. From the very beginning, we worked with local communities and other partners to achieve our nation’s conservation goals.
One of our oldest partners has been the National Wild Turkey Federation. For more than 40 years now, we have worked with the federation toward our mutual goals of conserving habitat for wild turkey and preserving our national hunting heritage.
Both goals are equally central to our mission at the Forest Service. By the time the early conservation movement was born, our nation had lost vast amounts of natural resources. We had lost about a quarter of our original forest estate. We had lost species that were quintessentially American, like the passenger pigeon. We had almost lost bison, elk, wolf, grizzly, and bald eagle. And we had already lost wild turkey in many areas.
And with all that loss came the loss of what it means to be American. That includes our rich American hunting traditions. Hunting our native wildlife is part of traditions on this continent that go back for thousands of years.
So we have worked hard to restore habitat for these animals—to recover them wherever we could. And we have worked to restore opportunities for Americans from all backgrounds, young and old, to enjoy their heritage of the Great Outdoors. Part of that heritage is hunting wild turkey.
You know, Mark Twain once told a story about hunting wild turkey as a young boy. He had a small shotgun, but he was a terrible shot, so when he found a turkey in the woods one day he decided to take it alive. It was acting lame, so he thought it would be easy.
But whenever he was on the point of grabbing that bird, it would scoot away. Then it would stop and look at him, acting tired, encouraging him to make another try.
This went on all day long. Then the turkey got tired of the game and took off flying, landing in a tree. It crossed its legs and smiled down at him, looking pleased to see him so surprised. I’m not sure a bird can smile, but it sure seemed that way to Mark Twain.
We want others to be able to tell American stories like this, and that’s why we’ve worked together with the National Wild Turkey Federation for so long. Before I close, I’d like to say a few words about our partnership to express our appreciation and support.
Our working relationship goes back to 1973, when the federation was founded. Ours is one of the longest working relationships that the Forest Service has had with a conservation organization. In 1986, we formalized our relationship through an MOU that continues to this day.
We work together through the Making Tracks Program, which aligns our strategic plan with the federation’s initiative called Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. Our shared priorities include the federation’s continued leadership in stewardship contracting, which is critical to restoring degraded landscapes nationwide. The federation leads the way in stewardship contracting as a tool for restoring wildlife habitat. We have partnered together on over 90 stewardship contracting projects across multiple regions, and we are deeply grateful for your support.
We are also pursuing partnership opportunities together through new Farm Bill authorities, such as working together on projects to restore watershed health, to create early successional habitat, and to improve public access for recreation and hunting.
The federation has also supported both the Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service in our Chiefs’ Joint Landscape Restoration Partnership projects. You have partnered with both of our agencies to improve the health and resilience of forest ecosystems where public and private lands meet across our nation.
We also share resources, including 13 shared project biologists and forester positions, with plans to hire more. And we work together on outreach to underserved and underrepresented communities, engaging them in conservation.
We welcome the federation’s expansion of research, and we are committed to working together across landownerships to restore and protect forest health. In this same connection, we will incorporate our Research and Development and State and Private Forestry programs into our Making Tracks Program and expand the steering committee to help leverage mutual resources.
In closing, I would like to thank the NWTF for all your support over the years, including your support on policy issues. Last year, you testified on our behalf before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on the urgent need to fix our fire budgets. We are deeply grateful for your support, and we are deeply committed to working together on this and other issues to meet our mutual goals.