New York park commemorates trap-and-transfer program

A new exhibit at the Allegany State Park Administration Building Museum commemorates the park’s role in trapping and transferring wild turkeys to other areas within New York and other Northeastern states.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, in partnership with the NWTF and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, developed the display, which was unveiled last July.

Trap and transfer work in New York was made possible due to the perseverance of people, such as Fred Evans, a principal fish and wildlife technician in the state’s Conservation Department, as it was known prior to becoming the DEC. Evans was one of the first members of NWTF’s National Board of Directors. The NWTF honored him with its inaugural Wayne Bailey Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2008 NWTF Convention and Sport Show.

Wild turkeys had vanished from New York by the mid-to-late 1800s. In the late 1950s, though, wild turkeys had found Allegany State Park after expanding north from the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, which borders the park at the state line.

Richard “Dick” Hyde, Evan’s supervisor, saw an opportunity to expedite the slow, natural repopulation of wild turkeys and assigned him to the project. Evans worked tirelessly with other agency staff, and after many unsuccessful attempts to identify private landowners willing to allow wild turkey trapping on their property, he then sought permission from the park. The decision rested with the Regional Park Commission, which, fortunately, voted in favor of the effort.

Eleven turkeys were captured during the winter of 1959 and relocated to Humphrey, New York. Between 1959 and 1977, Evans and other staff trapped 399 wild turkeys in the park and relocated them to other areas around the state. Hunters now enjoy a fantastic wild turkey resource to pursue each spring and fall thanks to that monumental effort. Without the park’s generous stewards, it’s difficult to say how wild turkey restoration in New York might have progressed.

The park’s impact on turkey restoration made marks well beyond New York. An additional 92 wild turkeys captured there from 1972-77 were transferred to Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey.

Jim Cardoza, retired wild turkey biologist for Massachusetts’ Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, recalls working with Evans to restore wild turkeys to The Bay State starting in 1972.

“The New York DEC courteously agreed to provide wild-trapped turkeys to Massachusetts in the interest of furthering regional turkey populations,” Cardoza said. “In response, I traveled to Allegany State Park and met Fred and his coworkers. Fred was enthusiastic, excited and champing at the bit to trap turkeys. We caught seven birds on that first trip, and I promptly set out on the long haul back to the Berkshires.”

They later trapped more birds from the park and transferred them to Massachusetts, then to Connecticut.

“The 22 wild turkeys Connecticut received from New York provided the foundation for our state’s most successful wildlife reintroduction program,” said Mike Gregonis, wildlife biologist for the Connecticut Wildlife Division. “Due to New York’s generosity, the citizens of Connecticut now have the opportunity to enjoy viewing and hunting wild turkeys in their home state.”

The new museum display depicts a cannon-net being shot over mounted wild turkeys. Imagery includes photos of the first trapping. Evans described the event vividly during the opening ceremony.   

“The museum display and monument showcase and honor the men who founded this program and did so much for the wild turkey conservation,” Regional Director Jay Bailey said. “We are extremely proud of Allegany State Park’s role in the reestablishment of this iconic North American bird.”

The exhibit includes video footage of wild turkey trapping and other related, educational information. A stone monument was erected in 2016, just off France Brook Road, the site where the first birds were captured in 1959. Randy Opferbeck, president of the Enchanted Mountains NWTF chapter and New York State Chapter board member, provided input as the project was developing. 

Although wild turkey trap-and-transfer work for restoration purposes is largely complete, much remains to be done. The 64,800-acre state park is in the center of the NWTF’s Allegany Mountains area of focus. This focal landscape is a priority within NWTF’s Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. initiative. Wild turkey numbers there have declined significantly over the last 10 to 15 years. 

To combat the decline, an NWTF partnership with the Wildlife Management Institute and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is focused on delivering young forest habitat technical assistance to private landowners. Wild turkeys will benefit from the improved nesting and brood-rearing cover.

Additionally, DEC spearheaded several wild turkey-related research projects in recent years. These projects helped discover critical information that guides management decisions, including adjustments to fall hunting opportunities statewide. These changes reduce harvest numbers and are more in line with the current population status and rebuilding objectives.

“Early restoration efforts in the mid-1900s confirmed that trap and transfer of wild stock is the only method of population establishment that truly works for wild turkeys,” said Brian Zielinski, NWTF’s Eastern Region director of conservation operations. “Equally important is having a viable source population and a cooperator willing to support such efforts. The Allegany State Park was just that for not only New York but for other states throughout the Northeast.

“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to all those involved for their early dedication and vision, especially the Allegany State Park administration and personnel who provided great stewardship of the resource under their responsibility and were willing to share. We now enjoy a great turkey resource and huntable populations throughout the Northeast because of these early efforts,” Zielinski said. — Doug Little, NWTF conservation field manager (Northeast)

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