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Wild turkey population to be monitored

From the  Idaho Department of Fish and Game

-- A select group of hen turkeys will soon be unwitting participants in a wild turkey population study on Andrus Wildlife Management Area near Cambridge.

The cooperative effort between Idaho Fish and Game and the National Wild Turkey Federation aims to understand better the fate of birds released on the wildlife management area.

As recently as 2002, more than 250 wild turkeys could be found wintering near the management area headquarters office, delighting visitors driving from Cambridge to Brownlee Reservoir. By 2005, fewer than 75 birds were found wintering in the same locale. Spring turkey harvest across the area mirrored this population decline; 175 birds were harvested in 2000 but only 82 bagged the following year, for example.

The downturn is not unique to Andrus. Wild turkey numbers have declined steadily since 2002 across Idaho's southwest region.

Through this same period, surplus birds from other locations have been released at Andrus, including 157 in late 2007, but these releases have only temporarily bolstered the resident turkey population. Supplemental feeding has been conducted for the past two years, but few birds apparently use this food supply.

The million dollar question is what's happening to these birds?

"I don't know if they are simply leaving the WMA for better habitat elsewhere or dying in the months following their release," Fish and Game wildlife biologist Jake Powell said. "But I hope to know by the time this study ends."

With the release of another 156 birds at Andrus just weeks ago, the decision was made to take a harder look at the problem.

"Surplus birds have not sparked population growth or even sustained the population at a higher level over time," Powell noted. 

"Rather than continue to release birds only to watch them vanish, we decided to put a study design together that will provide us with some answers." 

Fish and Game partnered with the National Wild Turkey Federation to fund the project.

"The federation stepped up, providing $4,100 to cover the cost of transmitters," Powell said. "They have a keen interest in this particular population and we're grateful for their willingness to invest some funding in the effort." 

This winter, Fish and Game employees will capture and attach radio transmitters to 20 female turkeys. During the next two years, from November through March, radioed birds will be monitored several times each week to determine their location and status, whether living or dead. At the same time, snow conditions and nightly low temperatures will be documented. 

"We hope to be able to identify the factors limiting the growth of this turkey population," Powell said. "Once identified, those factors will help us better define our wild turkey management objectives for Andrus Wildlife Management Area."

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