TURKEY DECLINE - part II
Last week we compared Missouri's turkey season numbers through the years. The last 20 have been pretty much down hill to the point at which lots of folks are beginning to ask wildlife managers to make some adjustments to help the birds recover. One prominent post going around social media included lots of statistics put together by the author, who made the point that while birds were expanding their range and increasing in numbers, bag limits and the season length were expanded, but they have not been adjusted as the populations have declined. I tend to agree with his point but the question becomes, “What is the best course of action to help the big birds increase their numbers once again?”
Like most wildlife management decisions, it's complicated. The increased reliance on chemicals by farmers, habitat loss, efficient combines, lack of management in most private timber tracts and skyrocketing predator populations all contribute to turkeys having less nest success. Of all the above mentioned contributing factors, nest predation primarily by raccoons and opossums is an area that individuals can work on.
For starters, when you need to remove a problem raccoon or two hang up your live trap and purchase a couple of dog proof leg-hold traps. They are easy to set, won't catch the neighbors dog and very effective. The unfortunate part is that you need to go ahead and dispatch the raccoons and possums you catch rather than just release them somewhere else to become a problem in a new area. While you’re at it, go ahead and remove several more problem nest predators at your location. Birds of all species will appreciate it.
Some have suggested leaving the season open on raccoons on private lands year round for a couple of years among other things. Reina Tyl, the Missouri Department of Conservation Turkey Biologist, told me this week that the Department is currently doing a follow up study to the recently concluded five year study that revealed problems with poult survival. This is a 4-year project involving GPS equipped birds. The good news is, it’s a four-year study, not a ten year study, as was reported on social media. GPS will tell us a lot and in a much shorter time frame than the old radio collared birds did.
In the mean time, step up your “damage control” program where you can and wish this year’s turkey crop good luck.