Last Tuesday the beautiful, Eastern turkey jake was in Maine.
On Thursday a box labeled National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) was opened by Sean Willis of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).
Out of it, that same young male turkey flew into the forest of Angelina County, TX near Lufkin.
A total of 22 birds, all from Maine, became Texas citizens that day as a long-standing collaboration between TPWD and NWTF met with the Middle Neches Eastern Turkey Cooperative.
“Our Turkey Restoration Co-op, includes a group of seven landowners and consists of approximately 11,000 acres,” said Jay Todd of Core Supply LLC.
“We began our journey for restocking Eastern turkeys back in 2015, when we first put in our application with TPWD. We ended up not passing our habitat evaluation that year, and knew we had some work to do with regard to improving our habitat.”
Over the next four years, the group of landowners worked hard on enhancing habitat for Eastern turkeys.
“Specifically, we increased our usage of prescribed fire, herbicide applications, and row thinnings, and created more permanent openings throughout the entire landscape. Then, once we re-applied in 2019, our efforts were rewarded when TPWD’s Turkey Program Leader Jason Hardin let us know that we had passed.”
“It’s a dream come true for our landowners, and we know the work has only just begun. Now, we have to continue building upon our habitat improvements and trying to control predator populations as best we can in order for these birds to have the best chance at long term reproductive success. A special thanks also goes out to the Vines, Kenley, Loggins and Todd families, and Don Dietz with Forest Resource Consultants, Inc.,” Todd said.
Among the project partners, NWTF holds a unique position.
“NWTF holds an agreement with Delta Cargo. The Texas State Chapter of NWTF reimburses NWTF National office for the fees associated with shipping birds by air,” said NWTF biologist Annie Farrell.
“The Texas State Chapter also assists with funding for disease testing and reimbursing TPWD staff who travel out of state to collect and haul the birds (not this year though. All birds came in via air). NWTF also provides transport boxes to whichever states are trapping for Texas, free of cost.”
NWTF also holds an agreement with TPWD and other separate agreements with the other state agencies that are sending birds. Through those agreements, trap states are able to be “paid” for the turkeys.
“TPWD reimburses NWTF and NWTF holds the turkey replacement funds for state specific reimbursements. Trap states can submit a turkey replacement form to NWTF to make purchases on their behalf,” Farrell said.
TPWD under the leadership of Hardin have created “super stockings” of turkeys with a minimum of 80 birds stocked in a location with a male/female ratio that allows for optimal population expansion.
Sites in Titus and Franklin County are nearing their “super stocking” goals and new areas are under consideration after careful scientific evaluation.
Turkeys are a key indicator of forest health.
This wildlife journalist believes as turkeys go, so do America’s forests. Seeing eastern turkeys return to the Pineywoods and expand their numbers thanks to the cooperation that helped make the Angelina County release possible is inspiring.
It’s all about people stepping up to make a difference for wildlife and the legacy they create for conservation.
“We lost the patriarch of our cooperative this past year, when Mr. Simon W. “Bubba” Henderson III passed away after his long bout with cancer,” Todd said.
“The Henderson family are the owners of the Pine Island Hunting & Fishing Club, where our birds were released, and we know he was looking down upon us today with a big smile on his face.”
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