HARRISBURG -- The Pennsylvania Game Commission, in partnership with the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), has launched a trap-and-transfer project to enhance wild turkey populations in parts of southeastern Pennsylvania this winter by up to 200 birds. The project was recommended by Game Commissioner Stephen L. Mohr, of Lancaster.
"Although small flocks of turkeys exist in a few areas in southeastern Pennsylvania, the forested areas are fragmented, which makes it difficult for the birds to move or disperse into other suitable habitats," said Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist. "Turkeys were released into this portion of the state in the 1980s and ^90s and have done well in the release areas. However, turkeys have not established themselves in most of the available habitats because of the difficulty associated with dispersing through fragmented landscapes."
The turkeys are being released throughout TMA 9A, which includes portions of Berks, Chester, Lancaster and York counties. Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officers and Deputies, working with NWTF volunteers, will be trapping turkeys from areas of the Commonwealth where they are very plentiful and transferring them to release sites in TMA 9A. The releases will not only link existing wild turkeys population, but also will increase their genetic variability.
"Wildlife trap and transfer projects have been used throughout North America by government wildlife agencies and the NWTF," Casalena said. "Wild turkey trap and transfer got its start in Pennsylvania in the 1920s, but really came into its own in the 1960s and ^70s, when more than 1,500 turkeys were trapped in northcentral counties and released throughout the Commonwealth. An amazing population restoration followed. The Game Commission^s turkey trap and transfer program became the envy of the nation."
Casalena said most of the turkeys are being captured on lands closed to hunting, including private land where landowners have given the Game Commission permission to trap birds. The targeted number of turkeys for release in TMA 9A is between 150-200 birds.
"We are planning to capture and release at least three female turkeys (hens), for every one adult male turkey (also known as toms or gobblers)," Casalena said. "Since one tom will mate with several hens during the spring breeding season and females are responsible for all of the nesting and poult raising duties, it is important that more hens are released than toms. The higher proportion of hens being released will give the turkeys a better chance of producing enough young birds to establish themselves in the new habitats."
Up to 20 turkeys each are being released at more than 10 pre-determined release sites. Release sites were selected using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology that assesses habitat quality. WCOs, Game Commission Land Managers and Casalena conducted field evaluations of these areas as part of the selection process. So far, the trap-and-transfer project has released 16 turkeys in Berks County; 47 in Chester County; and 47 in York County. More releases are being planned.
Turkeys will be released on both public and private lands, with public lands and private landowners enrolled in the Game Commission cooperative landowner program receiving the highest priority for release sites.
All transferred turkeys will receive leg bands immediately after being captured to facilitate collection of dispersal and spring harvest rate information.
Game Commission personnel will be trapping wild turkeys using a rocket-net that, when detonated, shoots a large nylon, mesh net over the flock of birds. Turkeys will be baited into openings. When the birds begin using a site regularly a trapping crew will set up the rocket-net to trap the flock. A trapper will wait in a blind for the birds to come in, and when they settle onto the bait, the net will be detonated and three small rockets will quickly shoot the net over the turkeys. Crews will remove the birds from the net and then place a legband on each bird and put it into specially-made turkey transport box that will ensure safe transport to the release site. The boxes give turkeys enough room to move, and protect them from injury by preventing them from spreading their wings.
"The National Wild Turkey Federation is proud to be a part of this turkey release," said Rob Keck, NWTF CEO. "Since 1985, our volunteers have poured over $2 million into wild turkey management in the state of Pennsylvania. Working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, our volunteers have helped purchase over 19,000 acres of land and conducted habitat improvement projects on over 256,000 acres of public lands. They have established and maintained over 2,600 acres of wildlife openings and contributed significantly to the purchase of equipment and the education of our youth."
To enable the released turkeys to establish long-term flocks in the area, the Board of Game Commissioners voted to close the fall turkey season in TMA 9A for 2001.
Casalena pointed out that the trap and transfer program in TMA 9A is not related to research being conducted in the Michaux State Forest area of TMA 7B, which consists of portions of Cumberland, Adams, and Franklin counties.
"In TMA 7B, we are studying the turkey population to determine why it has declined and has not recovered," Casalena said. "In this project, Game Commission biologists, working with state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry employees and NWTF volunteers, have been trapping and fitting turkey hens with radio transmitters since September of 1999, to determine survival rates, causes of mortality, nesting success, and to collect habitat use information."
Game Commission employees are trapping turkeys, fitting them with radio transmitters and leg bands and releasing them in TMA 7B again this winter. However, these birds are not being transferred into TMA 9A. As part of the TMA 7B study, hens are fitted with radio transmitters and leg bands, and male turkeys receive a leg band. All TMA 7B turkeys are released exactly where they were captured.
These projects are being funded and supported by the Game Commission, DCNR and the Pennsylvania state and local chapters of the NWTF. Assistance is being provided by numerous private landowners who have allowed Game Commission personnel to use their property in conjunction with both projects and many volunteers who have dedicated their time and effort to help these programs succeed.
Founded in 1973, the NWTF is an international non-profit conservation organization dedicated to the conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation of hunting traditions. For more information on NWTF, visit their website at www.nwtf.org.