Wildlife biologists with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are preparing for the arrival of dozens of wild-trapped eastern turkeys that will be released at select sites in eastern Texas in coming weeks. The upcoming releases are part of the state's long-term plan to restore populations of the regal game birds to their native habitat across the Pineywoods and Post Oak regions of the state.
According Jason Hardin, TPWD's upland game bird program leader, the effort stems from National Wild Turkey Federation's national initiative called "Save the Habitat -- Save the Hunt."
"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."
According to Hardin, the current "super stocking" plan calls for the release of as many as 240 birds this winter. The birds will be divided between three different stocking sites in Rusk and Anderson counties.
The goal is to stock 80 birds (60 hens and 20 gobblers) at each release site. Each site was evaluated for habitat quality last spring using the state's new Eastern Turkey habitat suitability index.
The birds cost $525 apiece, totaling $42,000 for each super stocking release site. Funding of the project is provided through sales of TPWD's Upland Game Bird Stamps, and monies set aside by the Texas State Chapter of the NWTF. Hardin says the TPWD has already released 40 birds at the Rusk County site and 10 in Anderson County. Other shipments are expected to arrive soon thanks to trapping efforts by state agencies and the NWTF in Alabama, West Virginia, South Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee and Kansas.
The biologist said a release has been scheduled for Feb. 6 at the Gus Engling Wildlife Management Area in Anderson County.
"I doubt we will have all 80 birds ready to be released on Thursday," Hardin said. "The trap states only trap on Mondays and Tuesdays, which means we typically do our releases on Wednesdays and Thursdays. I am guessing there will be at least three releases at Gus Engling WMA.