Turkey hunters fund habitat research in Texas Panhandle
The Texas Panhandle forms a nearly square block of land made up of the 26 northernmost Texas counties. Red canyons and dried tumbleweeds in the southern Panhandle complement the windmills and waving grasses that stretch across the flat plains to the north and west.
Then there's Turkey, Texas, located 100 miles southeast of Amarillo. No other town in the Panhandle emphasizes the impact of the wild turkey better than the once tiny settlement formerly known as Turkey Roost. The town took its name from the large number of Rio Grande wild turkeys, a subspecies of the popular game bird, that roosted in the valuable river woodlands along nearby Turkey Creek. The name of the town was later shortened to Turkey when a local U.S. Post Office was established in 1893.
Wild turkey populations began to decline around Turkey, Texas and across the nation as pioneers moved westward and the species suffered from loss of habitat and from the foraging of pioneer families. Much later, Texas Parks and Wildlife and the National Wild Turkey Federation's Texas State Chapter began working to restore wild turkeys to the state. 6,700 birds have been trapped and transferred to Texas since Making Tracks, a cooperative program between the NWTF and state, federal and provincial wildlife agencies, was launched in 1986. The program works to restore wild turkeys to all suitable habitat in North America.
Today, with urbanization threatening the nation's open space, the task of conserving and protecting wildlife habitat is more important than ever. While many of the Panhandle's roosting sites still serve Rio Grande birds, these wooded river areas are declining.
"The decline in these roosting areas is causing a decline in the Rio Grande population, and we want to know why we're loosing this preferred habitat," said Tom Hughes, NWTF wildlife biologist. "We also believe that this research will be beneficial to other wildlife populations that may eventually be affected by the loss of this habitat."
The NWTF has approved $124,000 in national projects research grant funding for this research project, while the Texas State Chapter of the NWTF has contributed an additional $18,000 from money raised by chapter members and volunteers.
The study focuses on how the Rio Grande's choice of roosting sites affect productivity and survival. Roosting conditions are changing in the southwest as cottonwood forests dwindle, riparian habitat becomes fragmented and weather patterns change. By comparing roosting habitat preference and population data, researchers should provide land managers with a definition of what constitutes good Rio Grande turkey habitat, not only in Texas, but also in Rio Grande habitat across the west.
To foster an interest in and concern for wildlife and its habitat, organizations like the NWTF work to expose people to the value of the outdoors and of the native species that inhabit the landscape. The Texas State Chapter does this by funding a number of educational programs and outreach events.
Scholarships totaling $7,500 have been awarded to outstanding Texas students interested in conservation and hunting through the state's JAKES program. JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship) is the NWTF's outreach program designed to teach youths 17 year olds and younger about conservation, hunting, archery, gun safety and other outdoor skills. The Texas State Chapter also sponsors a conservation youth camp for 35 kids each year.
"The camp is called Feathered Forces," said Dale Bounds, Texas State Chapter President. "It's a week-long conservation camp for high school students, it's very in depth and we think it's a great program."
The state hosted seven JAKES event and nine NWTF Women in the Outdoors events in 2003. The Women in the Outdoors outreach program offers women the opportunity to learn about camping, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, shooting and other outdoor activities in a fun, noncompetitive environment. To date, $204,451 have been spent by the Texas State Chapter to improve wildlife habitat, provide youth scholarships and sponsor education and outreach programs geared towards women, kids and people with disabilities in Texas.
For information about the NWTF, call 1-800-THE-NWTF or visit the web site at www.nwtf.org.