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A good news story we can really gobble up

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Conservation success stories are hard to come by. More often there are tales of things gone wrong, despite best intentions. Not so with one newcomer to Manitoba -- the eastern wild turkey.

Turkey hunting season opens in select areas of the province on April 28 (a youth hunt starts April 21). It's an opportunity that wouldn't have been possible if the stars hadn't aligned way back in 1958. It happened in Altona, after a guest speaker at the annual game and fish club banquet spoke glowingly of the widespread turkey reintroduction program that was happening in the United States.

Dozens of game and fish clubs quickly jumped on board and formed Wild Gobblers Unlimited (WGU). Birds were imported from the U.S. and released near Miami.

By the late 1970s, the turkey population in the Pembina Valley had flourished and the first resident hunting tags were filled. It was the beginning of an enduring relationship among many partners. Manitoba Conservation and the Manitoba Wildlife Federation quickly got involved and in 2002, a Manitoba chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) was formed.

John Krupinski holds executive positions with both WGU and NWTF. He said clusters of birds are strong around the original areas where they were released, including Miami, Morden, Winkler and Treherne. New populations have also been established in the Beausejour and Lac du Bonnet areas. If you visit Birds Hill Park, you may spot the resident flock that has become quite friendly.

Most of the time, turkeys wander the countryside, pretty much keeping to themselves. Occasionally, they find a private feedlot and need to be discouraged. When this happens, interceptor feeders are installed nearby and the wayward turkeys soon become accustomed to the new treat. These birds are then captured, banded and delivered to a new area of the province to establish a population. It's an effort made possible by co-operation among the four groups.

Manitoba's turkey population is in great shape, says Frank Baldwin, game bird manager at Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship. "The birds were nesting early last spring thanks to our relatively mild winter. Populations are looking good for this spring."

A banding effort is now in its fourth year in GHA 31, where about 45 per cent of tags are filled. The aim is to establish the harvest rate in this population. As things stand, hunters are issued a single tag (for one bird) that can be filled in the spring or fall seasons. Turkey hunting remains closed to non-residents. About 10 per cent of adult males are harvested annually.

"That's exactly where we want to be," Baldwin said. "We know the majority of birds are harvested in this GHA (31), but that number is decreasing because birds are becoming available in other areas." Two or three new areas are established each year.

It's a good news story all around, mostly because the eastern wild turkey seems to have a knack for fitting in nicely, no matter where it goes. Introducing a non-native species can be tricky business. No one wants an introduced species to become a dreaded invasive species like purple loosestrife or zebra mussels.

Baldwin explained that extensive research has been ongoing in the United States since the 1950s. The wild turkey has been reintroduced into its native range that includes more than 30 states.

"There has never been a situation where turkeys have had a detrimental effect," he said. "They don't parasitize other species' nests and they don't push native birds out of the habitat."

Spring turkey hunting season begins April 28 and runs until May 20 in GHA 22 and 27 to 35A inclusive. A licence is $23. A youth licence costs only $5.

The National Wild Turkey Foundation, Manitoba Chapter, is holding its banquet April 20 at CanadInns Club Regent. For tickets, call John at (204) 667-8500

Shel Zolkewich writes about the outdoors, travel and food when she's not playing outside, traveling or eating. You can reach her with your comments at shel@shelzolkewich.com

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 C10

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