When Rich Cramer was asked to attend the National Wild Turkey Federation Convention and Sport Show, he didn't realize he was one of the guests of honor.
Cramer, land management group supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, received the Joe Kurz Wildlife Manager of the Year Award at the NWTF convention.
"I didn't know I had received it until I was sitting there at their luncheon in Nashville," Cramer said. "It was quite a surprise."
Rich Cramer, land management group supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission
"I'm very honored and humbled," he said.
He also credits the people working with him. While Cramer was the supervisor, he was far from the only person working. "I want to make sure that I pay appropriate tribute... to the food and cover crews in both Warren and Forest Counties. Without them I would not have even been considered for this award."
The projects were combined efforts, bringing together the Game Commission's gamelands maintenance crews, the federation, and the U.S. Forest Service at the Allegheny National Forest.
"The Forest Service doesn't have a lot of habitat work crews," Cramer said. "We do that work for them. It's a real nice partnership."
The award is given to a wildlife manager or technician who "has contributed greatly to wild turkey habitat enhancement, conservation, or our wildlife resources and the mission of the NWTF."
NWTF honored Cramer for efforts in Warren and Forest counties that resulted in better habitat for not only wild turkey, but white-tailed deer, bear, and other species.
Cramer supervised projects on the Beanfields in Irvine and Martin Run near Henrys Mill that resulted in enhancements to thousands of acres.
The NWTF was considered the project leader and contributed funds to the effort.
"The work at Martin Run included planting of trees and shrubs on 255 acres, construction of 21 vernal ponds, enhancement of bat habitat, and the pruning and addition of apple trees on two acres," according to the release. That work enhances an area that encompasses 20,000 acres.
According to a NWTF release, "through a grant from the National Forest Foundation, Cramer's crew worked with the NWTF to restore 65 acres of permanent herbaceous openings for wildlife at Martin Run. Cramer's crew refurbished 27 acres of wildlife openings, far more than could have been accomplished using only outside contractors."
Openings - clearings up to several acres in size - represent an important type of habitat.
"In an area like that that's predominantly forested, openings like that are limited in numbers," Cramer said. "It's a critical habitat in the forest."
"Openings are a great place for insects to develop," he said. "Grouse and turkey bring their brood to feed on insects."
Deer also forage in openings.
The vernal pools are another important habitat.
"Vernal ponds are constructed mainly using a bulldozer in and around these forest openings," Cramer said.
The characteristic that makes a pool a vernal pool is that it dries up in the summer.
Because fish can't live there, that type of habitat is very beneficial for amphibians. They can deposit eggs without the danger of fish eating them.
At the Beanfields, "we established a variety of different cool season plantings and warm season grass stands," Cramer said.
There were 65 acres of plantings done at the Beanfields and another 10 acres of aspen cuts "to benefit American woodcock," the release said.
A bat condominium, capable of housing thousands of bats, was also built at the site.
"Bats are an extremely part of our ecosystem," Cramer said. "They're nature's insect control."
They do not compete with the game species for food. Bats eat flying insects, including mosquitoes. "The kinds of insects that the turkey and the grouse eat are the ones that are down on the ground," he said.
Apple trees were given some space to grow and herbicide was applied to invasive species.
"Rich and his crews have worked tirelessly and made great strides in wildlife habitat enhancement in the years since our project was initiated," NWTF Regional Biologist Bob Eriksen said. Cramer's "supervision and his knowledge resulted in outstanding results on those openings, and almost immediate improvement in the use of the openings by wild turkeys, deer, and black bears."
Under Cramer's leadership, some portions of the project were completed under budget, according to NWTF.