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Study To Guide Future Management of Eastern Wild Turkey
AUSTIN, Texas — Proof the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Eastern wild turkey restoration initiative is a booming success can be found in the woods, where thousands of hunters are currently chasing wily gobblers in more than 40 East Texas counties.
The ambitious undertaking to return Eastern wild turkeys to suitable habitat in Texas was made possible through a cooperative partnership between TPWD, private landowners and the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Systematically over a 10-year period beginning in the mid-80s, TPWD released flocks of wild turkeys onto sites identified as having sufficient habitat qualities to support a turkey population. Using funds from hunting license and turkey stamp sales, TPWD purchased wild-trapped Eastern turkeys from other states having surplus birds and the NWTF helped coordinate the deals. More than 7,000 Eastern turkeys were stocked.
"States had never paid for wild turkeys from another state," said Dr. James Earl Kennamer, the NWTF's senior vice president for conservation programs. "While it is illegal to sell wildlife, a plan was developed that allowed a state agency to donate wild turkeys to Texas, but be paid for their trapping costs or replacement value of the turkey. This approach paved the way to obtain the large numbers of birds necessary to restore turkeys in Texas."
And, while turkeys continue to flourish in many areas of East Texas, there are places where the birds have not done as well as biologists had anticipated.
“Some of our stockings in the past have been more successful than others, so the question we have is, ‘What is going on?’” said T. Wayne Schwertner, TPWD turkey biologist. “We want the answer before we move forward with additional restoration efforts.”
Schwertner will be looking to a group of researchers from Stephen F. Austin University to help solve the mystery. During the next three years, researchers will be using radio telemetry tracking devices to document movements, habitat usage and reproduction of recently released turkeys on three different sites in Nacogdoches, Anderson and Houston counties. About 80 wild-trapped turkeys from Tennessee and South Carolina were stocked at each location.
“The research effort will try to identify the effects on these birds of various management practices, such as prescribed burning, grazing, brush control and other habitat enhancements,” said Schwertner. “We’re also trying to identify what makes good turkey habitat because there are some places we stocked in the past we thought looked good, but the turkeys didn’t, and other sites that we considered marginal habitat where they have done well. As we look at future restoration sites we’ll have a better handle on which areas to concentrate on and which areas not to bother with.”
As with the previous sites where turkeys were released, no turkey hunting will be allowed for several years on those properties. Private landowners volunteer their land and resources to assist in the effort.
“Once again, this project is showing the importance of partnerships between TPWD and private landowners to conserve resources,” said Mike Berger, TPWD Wildlife Division Director. “We applaud these landowners for stepping up to the plate and offering their property as a research site.”
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