Private landowners in 13 states in the Southeast improved 193,000 acres to benefit wildlife this spring through one simple practice: planting trees.

The 351 landowners and 115 National Wild Turkey Federation chapters received a total of 164,000 oak seedlings free of charge through the NWTF’s Operation Oak initiative. The Natural Resources Conservation Service funded a grant that paid for the trees, which were planted in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

"Oak trees are beneficial to wildlife," said Jennifer Tapley, Operation Oak coordinator. "Through projects like this, NWTF members are planting trees that provide food and shelter for wild turkeys and other wildlife, and that will leave a strong conservation legacy for future generations."

Established in 2000, Operation Oak was formed to combat the decline of oak woodlands in eastern U.S. forests by planting seedlings on public and private lands. The seedlings are chosen for their hardiness, high growth rate and the potential to produce acorns in approximately 10 years. Since this initiative began, NWTF chapters and landowners in the Southeast have planted 746,000 oak seedlings that provide important food sources for wildlife.

"The NWTF strives to conserve wild turkeys and other wildlife, and also preserve our hunting heritage," Tapley said. "But without partners like the NRCS, we would not be able to fulfill our mission to the capacity that we have today."

NWTF biologists will monitor the newly planted oak seedlings throughout the summer to assess survival rates.

The National Wild Turkey Federation is a nonprofit conservation organization that works daily to further its mission of conserving the wild turkey and preserving our hunting heritage.

Through dynamic partnerships with state, federal and provincial wildlife agencies, the NWTF and its members have helped restore wild turkey populations across the country, spending more than $306 million to conserve 14 million acres of habitat for all types of wildlife.

Applications for the next Operation Oak season will be available in October 2010. Landowners interested in receiving free trees to plant on their land through this program should contact Jennifer Tapley at (800) THE-NWTF or jtapley@nwtf.net.

For more information about the NWTF visit the Web site at www.nwtf.org or call (800) THE-NWTF.