Prior to 1987 Michigan’s Wild Turkeys were found only in a few widely scattered areas of the state. What had been an increasing population was decreasing. As an example, areas within northern Newaygo and Mecosta counties that had held stable populations disappeared. Habitat and winter conditions had not changed. We had no idea if disease may have been the contributing factor. Sometime prior Wild Turkeys in a plateau region of Colorado had been decimated by an avian disease.
Karl Hosford was promoted as Chief of the DNR Wildlife Division in 1987. During March of that year we met with Karl and asked for a Successful Turkey Hunter patch program. This would be an incentive for a turkey hunter to bring his turkey to a field office which would allow for random testing each year to determine the health of the flocks through blood samples. Recruitment of turkeys could be determined by the age of the birds submitted. It would also give the local biologists to be able to talk to the turkey hunters for information.
Karl agreed that it would be an important program. In the spring of 1988 the program began and biological information was being obtained. After Karl’s tenure the program turned to sending a feather in for a patch. Apparently a lot of feathers were submitted several years old and the entire program was discontinued.
Millions of dollars are spent testing deer each year after encouraging hunters to bring in their deer or heads besides the check stations. The turkey patch program began for the very same reason. It was mentioned in the release that K-12 students have the opportunity to design the patch through a contest. If we returned to biological testing through a patch program administered by the DNR and not an outside organization that obtains the feel good proceeds the students could still design the patch.
Remember Proposal G that was on the ballot as few years ago? It determined that our natural resources would be professionally and biologically managed. So where is the Wild Turkey management program today? There is no testing to determine the health of the flocks, even though it would be a simple process. Winter population surveys have been discontinued, even though the means are there to do so. The fall hunting seasons are supposed to be based on population yet the DNR can not determine the numbers of turkeys. As an example, the turkey population within the 13 county DNR Cadillac District climbed to 23,000 turkeys in that 7,007 square mile area. Due to cold wet springs with little recruitment, natural mortality and predation the population fell to 16,000. We asked for a moratorium on a fall season until the birds rebounded. There has not been a fall season for that reason for several years. Now it can no longer be determined what we have out there.
Within the state forests of the northern lower peninsula there is not one compartment in those forests that meets the minimum habitat requirement of the wild turkey, or any of the wildlife that we hunt for that matter. Millions of dollars from the turkey fund that is restricted to be used by law for turkey management has been spent. 4.6 million dollars has been spent in the name of turkey habitat since 2002. Turkey funds have been spent on stream bank stabilization, purchases of stream and lake frontage, purchases of small parcels of land that contain houses, barns and garages. Field biologists have not been able to get broken equipment, equipment or supplies despite the fact that somewhere there is $1, 500,000 available for such things from the restricted turkey fund. Scientific management? Where? How we manage our state forests and how much wildlife they contain will determine the future of hunting.
In closing, among our DNR field wildlife and fisheries biologists are some of the most professional and dedicated found anywhere. They can only do with the support and tools given them from the Mason Building.
This article appeared as a Commentary in the April 1, 2009 edition of the Michigan Outdoor News. In the May 8th edition a ranking DNR wildlife biologist took exception to our article with a letter to the editor. He claimed that although they no longer test turkeys any dead turkey found is submitted for examination. What are the odds of finding a dead turkey after the coyotes, fox and other predators find them first? How many dead turkeys are tested each year?
He claimed that for population estimates it is more “cost effective” to use those results of their mail surveys to extrapolate population trends. It is the opinion of many of our members, scattered throughout northern Michigan that the turkey population has fallen considerably. So what do the mail surveys tell us what the current turkey numbers are and the reasons for the decline?
In his letter he brought up the annual use of turkey dollars on the Huron-Manistee National Forest, which we initiated. Under the current updated plan for the 1,000,000 acre forest, we have written it off for any meaningful management of habitat for those birds and animals that we hunt.
He claims that they have paid attention to turkey populations and habitat and have used both turkey funds and other funds to manage and monitor wild turkeys. We will categorically stand by our statements in this article. For instance, not one compartment within the 3.9 million acres of state forests contains habitat necessary for Wild Turkeys.