NWTF Reaches Conservation Milestone With Wild Turkey Release
Peggy Anne Vallery, chairman of the NWTF's national board of directors, releasing the 200,000th wild turkey
EDGEFIELD, S.C. — As the wild turkey glided across the field and touched down in its new home in Gardner Canyon near Tucson, Ariz., the crowd of attendees looked on with a sense of awe.
The soaring Gould's hen represented a tremendous milestone to James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D., of the National Wild Turkey Federation. That bird was the 200,000th wild turkey released through the NWTF's trap and transfer program.
"The restoration of the wild turkey has succeeded beyond what anyone could have imagined," said Kennamer, the NWTF's chief conservation officer. "The trap and transfer of the 200,000th wild turkey is a truly meaningful conservation milestone. I am excited to see what we can accomplish as we now focus more of our efforts on the conservation and improvement of upland habitat, which not only benefits wild turkeys but also a vast range of other wildlife."
Experts and volunteers from the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the NWTF recently trapped the 200,000th wild turkey in southern Arizona. The bird was one of 15 Gould's wild turkeys that were trapped in the Coronado National Forest and then transferred to Gardner Canyon, which has suitable habitat but no wild turkeys.
"Being part of this event and having the honor of releasing the 200,000th bird was exciting," said Peggy Anne Vallery, chairman of the NWTF's national board of directors. "But seeing all the young people help release wild turkeys alongside NWTF volunteers and staff, and Arizona Game and Fish staff members - that was the true thrill. Watching these young children open boxes and release wild turkeys, that's what it is all about. Our youth are the future so having them involved in this historic project was just tremendous."
Wild turkeys were on the brink of extinction in the early 1900s. Thankfully, efforts by government agencies and the NWTF have enabled the wild turkey population to soar to more than 7 million today, making it the second-most popular game species in the U.S. with more than 2.5 million turkey hunters.
Two critical factors were responsible for much of this success. The first was the creation of propelled nets in the 1950s that allowed wildlife managers to safely trap wild turkeys. However, the recovery of the wild turkey progressed slowly because wildlife managers could not secure enough resources for wide ranging restoration efforts.
The second important factor was the NWTF's founding in 1973. The NWTF offered wildlife managers a nonprofit partner to raise the funds needed to greatly expand trap and transfer efforts and provide volunteers to help conduct trap and transfers projects.
Thanks to the efforts of wildlife management agencies and the NWTF, wild turkeys currently occupy 99 percent of suitable habitat in North America. The NWTF continues to focus on improving and conserving upland habitat, which is critical to sustaining healthy populations of wild turkey and many other species hat share this important habitat.
Because of the success of trap and transfer, the interest in turkey hunting is also increasing. In 1973, there were turkey hunting seasons in only 22 states. Today, there are hunting seasons in 49 states, Canada and Mexico.
The number of turkey hunters is up 15 percent from 1996 to 2006, according to a recently released study by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. During that same time period, participation by all other hunters decreased 19 percent.
"This illustrates how successful we've been in reintroducing the wild turkey to so many states," Kennamer said. "To have hunting in 49 states, Canada and Mexico is tremendous. They even have a turkey hunting season on Long Island, New York for the first time in 100 years. Now more people than ever before have the opportunity to experience this grand bird in the wild."