More than two dozen Eastern wild turkeys from Tennessee and Missouri will call the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area home as of February 5, thanks to the efforts of the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The birds were captured earlier this week and transported to a TPWD facility in Tyler, where they were inspected, tagged with metal ID leg bracelets and fitted with GPS tracking devices. The transplanted turkeys then traveled to the Gus Engeling WMA an hour away and released into the wild as part of a “Super Stocking” initiative to restore this majestic bird on its historic range in East Texas.
The Gus Engeling WMA is among three sites identified for stocking this year. The “Super Stocking” plan calls for stockings of 80 turkeys on each site – three hens for each gobbler — about 240 birds in total. By next week, nearly 100 turkeys will have been released thus far.
“It’s the same old story,” Hardin said. “The birds were essentially wiped out by subsistence and market hunting along with extensive habitat loss in the later parts of the 19th century, but with the help of the NWTF, we have been able to bring the birds back all across the country. Although more than 50 counties in East Texas were stocked during the 1980s and 1990s only 28 counties are open for turkey hunting today. So we had to start looking at why we were not as successful in keeping the Eastern wild turkey population flourishing as other states in its historic range.”
The NWTF’s Texas State Chapter is playing a significant role in footing the bill for transferring the birds. Help with the gas bills and plane tickets have been a real boost, Hardin said. “We couldn’t do what we do without NWTF volunteers and employees. This is all part of NWTF’s new Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt Initiative. Hopefully, one of these days we’ll have enough birds so we will not need to rely on other states for our Eastern wild turkey restoration efforts.”
More Eastern wild turkeys are on the way.
Alabama, Missouri, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia are providing wild trapped Eastern turkeys for the Texas project. The states are compensated $500 for each turkey they provide, the restitution is funded by TPWD’s Upland Game Bird Stamp program.
Researchers will use the GPS transmitters to track movements of the birds, effectively “ground-truthing” the models biologists have created to identify preferred turkey habitat needs throughout the year. This data will help in assessing future stocking sites.
This restoration effort in Texas is unique,” said NWTF Assistant Vice President for Conservation Programs Tom Hughes. “It’s an area where we helped with trap and transfer work in places years ago. Maybe there was a change in the habitat, you had less prescribed fire than was needed, too much rain or not enough. Whatever the reason, we are going back to the area and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is really committed to getting it right this time.”
Hughes says it’s an unusual circumstance in Texas, since most wild turkey populations did well following earlier trap and transfer efforts.
“This one did too, for a while,” said Hughes. “But, from our standpoint, we are still committed to making sure turkeys have the best chance they can for survival. We are still practicing what we preach and have been since 1973.”