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Wanted: Your Thoughts and Observations about Wild Turkeys

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    Love to hunt turkeys? Or just love turkeys? The Pennsylvania Game Commission welcomes your input on its Wild Turkey Management Plan. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published July 27. 2018 10:49PM

If someone asked me about my plans for wild turkey, my answer would be simple: I would like to call in a big gobbler and shoot it. But when I read about some of the history of our game commissions studies and efforts toward wild turkey management, I thought it would be best to help spread the word about how Pennsylvania residents can take part in the plan.

This plan, which will cover the years 2018 through 2027, is the third in the series of the PGC’s turkey management plans. During the first plan, 1999 to 2005, the PGC worked to restore turkey populations and also build partnerships with other like-minded groups, agencies and organizations.

During 2006 through 2017, the plan refocused. The PGC sought to get harvest data, improve habitat for turkeys (including developing a habitat-suitability model), and assist/educate landowners.

PGC turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena said that the new plan will include information gathered from the first two efforts.

“The new plan uses the information gained during the two previous plans and focuses on developing turkey population models for each wildlife management unit (WMU) in the Commonwealth,” Casalena said.

“During the last decade, changes in landscape-scale habitat, weather patterns, predator communities and fall hunting seasons contributed to declining trends observed in turkey abundance and productivity,” Casalena said. “Whenever landscape-scale habitat quality has declined, the buffering effect becomes deteriorated (optimal habitat can act as a buffer to maladies such as disease, bad weather and predation).

Other strategies will include monitoring turkey harvest rates specific to WMUs and assessing turkey diseases and disease relation to population management. About 200,000 of us hunt turkeys in the fall, and 230,000 hunt turkeys in the spring – surely it would benefit the PGC to hear from a great number of hunters.

I added my “two-cents” worth last week; it’s easy, I just sent an email. On my own property, and around me, the hemlock trees are dying in alarming numbers from the wooly adelgid, a pest which first decimates the foliage and eventually kills the tree. Wildlife biologist Dan Mummert visited my property several years ago and pointed out that we could “see through” the hemlocks. You’re not supposed to be able to see through a hemlock tree, he explained then, the tree should be too dense for that.

The hemlocks are prime roosting trees for turkeys. In my email to the PGC, I ventured a theory that the statewide loss of hemlocks could hurt turkey populations in two ways: eliminating traditional roosting areas, and forcing turkeys into expanding their ranges to find new roost areas.

My neighbor, funeral director and music teacher Mark Christ, has seen and photographed a fisher on his property, and I’ve also seen one. These members of the weasel family are like weasels on steroids, able to easily climb trees and basically fearing nothing. Are the fishers climbing trees and killing turkeys as they roost? I also offered that theory.

Based on the two prior surveys, observations from the field, and hunter participation in the turkey management plan, the PGC will determine priority areas for habitat and management improvement projects at the WMU and state game lands levels, update the habitat suitability model for each WMU to integrate strategies for management of habitat and harvest, and increase habitat management acreages through prescribed burns, Casalena said. Also, the PGC will more precisely survey turkey hunters to discover participation rates from various age segments, with the goals of increasing hunter participation, retention, recruitment and reactivation.

“This new wild turkey management plan comprehensively involves all aspects of wild turkey management,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “Implementation of its strategies involves the entire agency and is a team effort. Before finalizing the plan, we are seeking public comment to ensure that it considers the thoughts and concerns of Pennsylvanians about this species.”

The draft plan can be viewed on the agency’s website at www.pgc.pa.gov on the wild turkey page. Hover over the Hunt & Trap tab in the top menu, select Hunting. Scroll down to click the Wild Turkey link in the Big Game section. Comments from the public will be accepted through Aug. 31, 2018, and can be emailed to WildTurkeyComments@pa.gov, or sent by mail to: Turkey Management Plan, Bureau of Wildlife Management, Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg PA.

A summary of public comments received, and any changes made in response to the comments, will be included in the final version of the draft 2018-2027 Wild Turkey Management Plan, which will be presented to the Game Commission Board of Commissioners for approval at the Board’s meeting on Sept. 25, 2018.

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