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‘Super stocking’ program aims to boost turkey numbers in ETX

A program is underway to reestablish the population of eastern wild turkeys in our neck of the woods.
Wild Turkeys in East Texas.
Wild Turkeys in East Texas.(Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)
Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 2:52 PM CDT
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(KTRE) - Texas is home to more than half million wild turkeys in the central and western parts of the state, but the problem lies when it comes to their population in East Texas. A program is underway to reestablish the birds in our neck of the woods.

According to wildlife data from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the eastern wild turkey once occupied 30 million acres of the Pineywoods, but due to largescale changes to their habitats, they were extirpated from East Texas by 1941. Despite restocking efforts from 1979-2003, as of this year, wild turkeys are only hunted in 13 East Texas counties.

The eastern turkey hunting season is underway for 13 counties in East Texas.

“When you get over to the eastern part of the state where we historically had the eastern subspecies, we’ve had a lot of difficulties there,” Jason Hardin said.

With the help of an SFA study, in 2014 the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department created the eastern turkey restoration program with the method of “super stocking.”

Hardin is the TPWD’s turkey program leader.

“Rather than trying to put those birds all over the place in East Texas, we’re trying to identify landscapes forested landscapes up and down these riparian coordinators like the Neches River, Sulphur River and Trinity River,” he said.

Those areas include parts of Angelina, Camp Cherokee, Franklin, Houston, Hopkins, Titus and even more East Texas Counties.

“Based on some research that we have found by flooding those areas with birds rather than putting a stocking here or there, but flood a single area with birds, they have a better chance of establishing a population,” Hardin said.

In the program’s seven years, Hardin says they’ve released close to 1000 birds at 12 locations. This past winter, TPWD released 107 eastern wild turkeys at three locations.

Texas has mandatory harvest reporting requirements, and as of May 5th, TPWD has received 114 harvest reports.

“We’re seeing nesting success, recruitment and survival. Birds are staying where they’re put,” Hardin said.

He says not only does this bode well for the hunting community in East Texas, but for other species.

“We’re improving habitat across a large landscape, which doesn’t just benefit wild turkey but benefits bobwhite quail and species like, Red cockaded woodpeckers and Louisiana pinesnake,” Hardin said.

For the hunting season in East Texas which happens on private land, there is a bag limit of one bird and harvest reporting must take place within 24 hours.

“It’s not us keeping tabs on you,” Hardin explained. “It’s us keeping tabs on that population. If we don’t have that data, we have to make some assumption that the population is declining.”

The eastern turkey hunting season runs until May 14th. Due to a trend of low harvest, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission closed Panola County’s season starting next year with hopes to get their number back up to reopen in the future.

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