Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Sara Kehrli was named the National Wild Turkey Federation’s 2015 Wildlife Manager of the Year for her contributions to wild turkey habitat restoration efforts at the Wisconsin State Chapter convention on Jan. 30 in Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
Kehrli has served as the wildlife manager for Columbia County for nearly nine years.
Her work covers multiple aspects of habitat management, including wetland restorations, woodland improvements, prairie and oak savanna restorations and invasive species control. Outside of work, Kehrli enjoys spending time outdoors volunteering for the NWTF Glacial Valley Gobblers chapter and serving as a mentor for new hunters through local Learn to Hunt events.
Rick Horton, NWTF regional wildlife biologist, said of Kehrli, “She is very attuned to wild turkey habitat requirements in her work area and actively seeks out partners and outside funding to improve the prairies, savannas and woodlands on her Wildlife Areas. Her success can be attributed to a firm understanding of wild turkey habitat needs as well as the goals and desires of the NWTF.”
Since 2011, Kehrli has successfully applied for NWTF Superfund money for five projects with NWTF contributions totaling $19,300. She was able to match these funds with $79,815 to improve 2,163 acres of key habitat for turkeys and other wildlife. Kehrli has also successfully secured habitat management funding from the state Wild Turkey Stamp account.
The ongoing oak savanna restoration at Pine Island Wildlife Area, which has received national attention, exemplifies the results of this funding. Pine Island is home to one of the most intact swamp white oak savannas in Wisconsin. Following tornado damage to nearby wooded areas in 2006, Kehrli and her team began efforts to convert this land to oak savanna across seven different units totaling over 1,000 acres. Wildlife is already benefitting from these efforts.
“The turkeys have responded well, and can be frequently seen utilizing these units,” says Kehrli.
Hunters also benefit from such cooperative habitat conservation projects. The NWTF Save The Habitat. Save The Hunt. initiative goals in Wisconsin include conserving and enhancing 220,000 acres of habitat, recruiting 35,000 hunters and providing recreational public access to 15,000 acres of land. NWTF relies upon good working relationships with natural resource agencies and managers like Kehrli to meet those objectives.
Horton adds, “We simply could not do it without the excellent partnership we have cultivated with the DNR.”