Habitat, outreach keys to turkey plan

Madison — The state’s next turkey-management plan is still in draft stage, but a DNR presentation to the Natural Resources Board on April 8 indicated the agency expects to continue looking for ways to expand turkey-hunting opportunities while protecting the bird’s presence in the state.

At the same time, the DNR will continue working on habitat projects and landowner/hunter outreach.

Scott Walter, DNR upland wildlife ecologist and chair of the DNR Wild Turkey Advisory Committee, told the board that the plan is a revision of the last plan that was written in 1996.

“We wanted to make the plan revision a document that embraced all of the contemporary issues we face with wild turkey management,” Walter said.

The foundation of the plan began in 2012 with 11 public meetings held around the state and a survey that was available online. The DNR received more than 2,000 public responses.

To be sure the approach was grounded in sound science, the agency did an extensive survey of current literature and research, and looked at other states’ turkey plans.

This new plan outlines a path for turkey management during the next decade. The plan is also meant to provide outreach to the more than 130,000 turkey hunters in the state. One goal stated in the plan is that of getting the plan into the hands of turkey hunters so they can read the information and become more involved in not just turkey hunting, but turkey management and habitat work.

The plan is attractive to the eye and provides interesting information in three general sections:

• Life history, ecology, and population dynamics;
• The history of wild turkeys in Wisconsin;
• Goals and a plan for the future.

Among some of the interesting facts readers will find in these sections are:

• Young turkeys are covered with down upon hatching and are able to leave the nest 12 to 24 hours after hatching;
• Nest survival rates range from 20 to 60 percent;
• Maintaining oak in the Driftless Area is a vital part of maintaining turkeys;
• Current spring and fall frameworks for turkey hunting are well supported by hunters.

The plan was coordinated by the Wild Turkey Advisory Committee made up of wildlife managers and researchers from throughout the state, plus input from conservation organizations.

Bill Bruins, NRB member from Waupun, said the DNR has done a good job with turkey restoration.

He also said that it seems the only impediment to turkey populations is a harsh winter, and he wondered if the DNR planned anything to bolster winter food supplies, especially up north.

Walter said winter weather is especially critical in the northern part of the state, in areas where there isn’t ample agriculture.

“The winter before last was incredibly harsh and there were lots of questions about turkey populations then,” Walter said. “But, coming out of that winter we were amazed. The turkeys came out of the woods and were there. There were local impacts, but the turkeys came out in better shape than anybody expected.”

Christine Thomas, NRB member from Stevens Point, and Jane Wiley, NRB member from Wausau, complimented the DNR on a plan format that is pleasant to see and easy to read.

Gary Zimmer, NRB member from Laona, agreed that the last two winters were tough on turkeys in some parts of the state. He said, though, that it wasn’t habitat that helped turkeys get through. Instead, he said some birds migrated miles to feedlots and found food sources.

“They can adapt, but they are scavengers,” Zimmer said.

He pointed out what appeared to be a contradiction: In one area of the plan, the DNR says turkey populations have stabilized, yet in another area the plan says the DNR wants continued population growth.

Zimmer also wondered about a population goal.

Walter said that in the north turkeys are finding random food sources, and the DNR currently is looking at identifying turkey distribution there.

Walter said the 1996 plan did list a population goal, but such a goal is not part of the new plan. He said the DNR does not make estimates of the turkey population, believing that harvest data and permit success levels are an adequate index for gauging turkey numbers.

Walter said turkey populations tend to be regulated internally, and they reach population stability and don’t usually become overabundant.

Greg Kazmierski, NRB member from Pewaukee, said the wild turkey is a Wisconsin success story and sportsmen have paid the bill, with licenses and stamps providing revenue that benefit other species. He asked for that to be recognized in the plan.

Walter agreed to do so.

Rick Horton, of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ralph Fritsch, of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, and Rob Bohmann, of the Conservation Congress, all expressed support for the document. 

Each group has representatives on the DNR Wild Turkey Advisory Committee and said they were pleased to have had input om the plan.

Fritsch emphasized that the plan was developed through DNR research and program scientists. He quoted DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp in saying that the foundation of the document rests on sound scientific data on turkey ecology and population dynamics.

The plan is not intended to be a technical document, but will be available online and there will be hard copies available at DNR service centers around the state later this summer. Approval for the final plan will be subject to NRB action later this year.

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