Auburn, NY—Mention New York to virtually anyone who lives outside of the Northeast and it conjures images of skyscrapers, traffic jams and urban sprawl.
New York is of course not just a city but a state and much of that state contains beautiful forests, farmlands and mountain ranges, greatly contrasting the Big Apple.
The state is home to around 180,000 eastern wild turkeys and that is why I found myself hunkered down in a blind for the opening of the spring season.
The hunt was a success and I bagged a nice bird but the real mission of the trip was to capture a good photo of an eastern gobbler to help complete my quest to capture photos of the “Grand Slam” (Rio Grande, eastern, Merriam’s and Oceola) in 2019.
The aim is to raise awareness to turkey conservation triumphs and concerns.
It is my belief after much study that if we get turkey conservation right-especially in relation to their habitat America’s forest will be dramatically healthier and all wildlife in their range will benefit.
They are the proverbial canary in the coal mine and in my opinion the cornerstone species for forest conservation in the United States.
That is why I was so excited to get this photo of the big gobbler I took when it appeared in the field.
Me and my friend and NY resident/expert turkey caller/outdoor writer Lou Marullo hunted a farm near Cato, NY in an area with a good mixture of corn, beans and other crops and forests.
According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) after reaching their peak around 2001 (250,000 birds), wild turkey populations declined gradually over the next decade. This was followed by a more severe decline since 2009.
The decline in turkey numbers may be more pronounced in some areas. Reasons for this include cold wet spring weather, tough winters, and changes in habitat quantity and quality. In areas where open habitats such as agricultural fields, hayfields, old fields, thickets, and young forests have been lost due to development and vegetative succession, there are fewer turkeys. In areas with a larger proportion of “big woods” turkeys will persist, but at lower densities than areas with a mix of mature timber, early successional habitats, and agriculture.
According to DEC officials, predation may also be a factor due to the fact changes in habitat give predators like coyotes easier opportunities to get birds.
New York turkey hunting regulations are adjusted to reflect population trends and hunter harvest is figured into management strategies and is considered to have minimal impact on long-term turkey populations.
Turkeys were hunted at their population rise and peak in the late 90s to early 2000s and are hunted and managed now.
At the end of the day habitat is the ultimate key and during this Turkey Revolution my eyes have been greatly opened to the scope of issues facing turkey habitat.
In New York forests are continually being removed for farming and housing developments. And while turkeys can live with small sets of woods and big cropland, they need a good mixture of crops, mature forests and intermediate woodlands.
Developments do them no good.
A key to turkey conservation is getting landowners to see value in the birds. Two of the tracts I visited and hunted on were kept as forests specifically for the purpose of hunting. Land in this state that is not seen as a value for hunting or otherwise for wildlife is eventually plowed or developed.
It’s that simple.
The eastern turkey is a truly amazing, wary creature and were what founding father Benjamin Franklin famously wanted to use as America’s icon.
They were the dinner for the first Thanksgiving and are a species we should monitor more to see where the health of forests in their range is going.
Groups l ike the National Wild Turkey Federation and state fish and wildlife departments do a great job but they are limited. They need everyone to support efforts for turkeys.
There is no concern of major decline in the near future but looking down the road it’s hard to imagine turkey habitat in states like New York not declining as human populations surge.
We need to make sure available habitat is maximized and managed properly.
Few are interested in a variety of threatened, endangered and declining animals in the eastern turkey’s range but due to the fact turkey hunters are passionate, these birds have a huge fan base who cares about their habitat.
And they spend millions of dollars on conservation.
Turkeys are important for the wild lands of America and I was honored and privileged to capture the second species in my Turkey Revolution question.
The search continues…
Chester Moore, Jr.