Over 40 people were on hand today at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area (GEWMA) to see 26 Easter wild turkeys released on the area. Children, some as young as 5 and adults were very excited to witness the wild trapped turkeys fly out of their boxes into the wilds of GEWMA.
This was the day GEWMA staff had been working toward for over 10 years. According to Scotty Parsons, NWTF East Texas Conservation Field Supervisor, “Our Texas NWTF Chapter has invested in habitat improvements all over East Texas. In the last 5 years, Texas NWTF has contributed $190,000 toward habitat work in East Texas and our NWTF team has leveraged that with TPWD, USFWS and USFS into $3.7 million, a 20:1 ratio. Some of those funds have been used on the project work at GEWMA.
Our goal for this particular project was to restore the grassland component in and oak-dominated upland on the GEWMA. We have restored a 424 acre site to 60% grassland and 40% canopy cover by mechanically (i.e., logging, skidding) removing dense stands of upland oak species from 254 acres. This work on the GEWMA represents $68,692 of habitat enhancement work in a 10 year effort.
Jason Hardin, TPWD Upland Game Bird Specialist, gave the group a brief history of the Eastern wild turkey in Texas. According to Hardin, since 1979, over 7,000 Eastern wild turkeys were released in 58 East Texas counties. Population started decreasing in 2006 and the turkey season in some East Texas counties were closed.
Hardin said, “After a 10 year hiatus from Eastern turkey restoration activities, TPWD has reengaged in Eastern turkey restoration efforts beginning
this winter. Last spring, TPWD and NWTF biologists evaluated a number of sites across East Texas utilizing TPWD’s new Eastern turkey habitat evaluation technique. Of the sites evaluated, 3 scored high enough to receive a stocking. Those sites are currently being Super Stocked with 60 hens and 20 gobblers for a total of 80 birds per release site. In all, TPWD plans to release 240 wild turkeys this winter in East Texas. Super stocking has proven to show higher survival than the traditional method of block-stocking, which stocked 15-20 birds at 5-10 sites across a county. Today, our goal is to identify the best available habitat and utilize super stocked turkeys to serve as a source population. Over time, TPWD hopes birds will begin to move into adjacent unoccupied landscapes.