The Pennsylvania turkey restoration program was completed in 2003, but we continue to assist other states, such as South Dakota, with their restoration program by transferring a small number of wild trapped turkeys from Pennsylvania to South Dakota. During the winters of 2006 and 2007 we transferred 53 and 16 wild turkeys, respectively, to South Dakota.
Representatives of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) released 20 wild turkeys in late February onto a farm in Martic Township, Lancaster County, as part of the joint trap-and-transfer project in southeastern Pennsylvania. Both the privately-owned farm and the adjacent parcel owned by Martic Township are open to public hunting and enrolled in the Game Commission's cooperative public access programs.
Game Commissioner Stephen L. Mohr of Bainbridge, Lancaster County, recommended the trap-and-transfer project to enhance wild turkey populations in parts of southeastern Pennsylvania. Up to 200 birds were planned to be released over winter throughout Turkey Management Area 9A, which includes portions of Berks, Chester, Lancaster and York counties. The first shipment comprised five gobblers and 15 hens.
"Although small flocks of turkeys exist in a few forested areas of southeastern Pennsylvania, the areas are fragmented, which makes it difficult for the birds to move or disperse into other suitable habitats," said PGC biologist Mary Jo Casalena. "Turkeys were released by the Game Commission into this portion of the state in the 1980s and '90s and have done well in the release areas. However, they haven't established themselves in most of the other available habitats because of the difficulty associated with dispersing through the southeast region's fragmented landscape."
"The National Wild Turkey Federation is proud to be a part of this trap-and-transfer project," said Rob Keck, NWTF national CEO. "Since 1985, our volunteers have contributed more than $2 million toward wild turkey management in the state of Pennsylvania. Working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, our volunteers have helped purchase more than 19,000 acres of land and conducted habitat improvement projects on more than 256,000 acres of public lands. They have established and maintained more than 2,600 acres of wildlife openings and contributed significantly to the purchase of equipment and the education of our youth.
"This project is just one more example of the great partnership enjoyed between NWTF and the Game Commission," Keck noted.
Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officers and Deputies, working with NWTF volunteers, have been trapping turkeys from areas of the Commonwealth where they're very plentiful and transferring them to release sites in TMA 9A. The releases will not only link existing wild turkey populations, 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."
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. Up to 20 turkeys are being released at each of more than 10 predetermined sites that 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. Turkeys released in the trap-and-transfer project to date include 16 in Berks County; 47 in Chester County; 40 in Lancaster County; and 70 in York County. More releases are planned.
Turkeys will be released on both public and private lands, with public lands and private lands enrolled in the Game Commission cooperative public access programs 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 trap wild turkeys using a rocket net that, when detonated, shoots a large nylon, mesh net over them. The netting process was demonstrated prior to the turkey release.
To lure birds out into a suitable situation for netting, bait is set out by Game Commission employees. Once a flock of birds begin using a bait site regularly, a trapping crew sets up the rocket net. A trapper waits 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 then remove the birds from the net and place a leg band on each bird and put it into a specially-made turkey transport box that ensures safe transport to a release site. The boxes give turkeys enough room to move, and protect them from injury by preventing them from spreading their wings. 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. Its national headquarters are in Edgefield, South Carolina. For more information on NWTF, visit their website at www.nwtf.org.