OUT: Sunday Column September 21, 2008

Wild Turkey Federation chapter in need of volunteers

Volunteer-based conservation groups are the bedrock of the conservation movement.

Whether it’s an international group with thousands of members, such as Ducks Unlimited, Audubon Society and Trout Unlimited, or small, local-focused groups such as the Colorado Sportsmen Wildlife Fund, these groups embrace as a key part of their mission the grassroots development of interest in preserving wildlife and wildlife habitat.

However, the main challenge to volunteer-based conservation is it’s very dependency on volunteers, most of whom have other lives and responsibilities.

The relatively small handful of volunteers who have extra time, resources or passion eventually find themselves carrying more and more of the load, sometimes eagerly, sometimes not.

Burnout follows, if it isn’t preceded by misunderstanding or even ingratitude by other members wondering why these few seem to have so much power.

That local volunteer organizations cyclically suffer ups and downs is a given. In recent years, several local conservation groups have struggled, fallen apart, some even disbanding, before eventually pulling themselves together again and resuming their valuable work.

So it’s not really surprising, although it’s always disappointing, to hear of another group going through a temporary but no-less-painful upheaval.

This time it’s the Western Slope Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Started in 1988, the local group has assisted the Division of Wildlife in the highly successful revival of wild turkey populations across the Western Slope by sponsoring and assisting in transplants and reintroductions.

Equally important, the chapter has taken the lead when it comes to youth involvement in hunting and conservation. Turkey Federation members commonly are among the leaders in participating in the Division of Wildlife’s extremely popular Hunter Outreach program.

Special DOW hunts for women, youth and disabled veterans always have several Turkey Federation members right in the middle of the action, whether it’s calling in a bird, spotting a nice buck or simply being a valued mentor when it comes to hunting and hunting ethics.

“They’ve bought feed for turkey food plots and a lot of the (local) committee members have been doing youth hunts for us,” said Frank McGee, the Palisade-area district wildlife manager for the Division of Wildlife. “They even bought an ATV for us to use on habitat work on the state wildlife areas. The chapter does a lot locally.”

It’s more than what happens in the field. Last year, the National Wild Turkey Federation made it possible for 53 Grand Valley students to attend college through the Federation’s national scholarship program. Three years ago, one college-bound Colorado student won the $12,500 top scholarship.

It’s not that there isn’t interest in the local National Wild Turkey Federation chapter. It seems there’s simply a shortage of members willing to step forward and be more than a passive watcher.

“We are looking for volunteers who would like to help in the preservation and conservation of the wild turkey,” said longtime NWTF member Kenny Marcella. “Right now, more than ever, with all the activities taking place on the Western Slope and in prime turkey habitat, we need to make sure that conservation and preservation of land and habitat is an ongoing effort.”

The chapter also could use help in planning the annual Heritage Banquet, the yearly fundraiser that is the most family-oriented of the many conservation banquets held locally each year.

It takes only a few hours a month, a tiny contribution when you think about the lasting effects of keeping the hunting tradition alive.

You don’t have to be turkey hunter, although that likely would change shortly as you start mingling with these enthusiastic gobble-chasers.

They’re looking for people who are passionate about conservation and want to do something, to go beyond simply being a member,” said McGee, who balances his busy work life with volunteering in the NWTF and Ducks Unlimited.

If you’re willing to take an extra step, an informational meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the DOW Hunter Education Building, 711 Independent Ave.

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