Increase in wild turkey nunmbers leads to more hunting opportunities
It’s particularly fitting: On this singular national holiday with a bird as its centerpiece, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission is asking you to go wild about turkey.
Specifically wild turkeys, and so much the better should your efforts include the feathered troublemakers cavorting around the Eastern Plains.
The feathered felons have caused so much ruckus the commission recently liberalized turkey hunting licenses and hunting opportunities in two particularly hard-hit areas.
First, some background: Wild turkeys might be considered the poster children for successful reintroductions by Parks and Wildlife.
Historical evidence shows signs of turkey domestication in Colorado as distant as 1,500 years ago, but push the fast-forward button to the 1980s when concern about near-depleted flocks saw the then-Division of Wildlife and the National Wild Turkey Federation augmenting natural flocks with transplanted birds.
After being hunted nearly to the point of extinction a century ago, wild turkey reintroduction programs have brought the population nationwide to nearly 7 million, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Wild turkeys are found in 53 of Colorado’s 64 counties, and biologists estimate a statewide population of 35,000 birds.
You’ll find mostly Merriam’s turkeys on the Western Slope, which has much of the state’s best year-round turkey habitat.
Some small populations of Rio Grande turkeys have moved into western Colorado from Utah but it’s on the Eastern Plains where that species dominates, particularly along the riparian areas in eastern Colorado.
Outside of those riparian areas, which offer superb spring and summer habitat, the countryside offers little in the way of winter habitat.
As the transplants were taking place, some biologists voiced a concern that a lack of winter habitat was the reason turkey flocks on the Eastern Plains weren’t plentiful.
But as some game managers acknowledged, it’s hard to see the downside of an animal population while that population still is struggling to gain a foothold.
A shortage of habitat isn’t such a problem when you have flocks of 15 or 20 birds, but multiply that by 10, and suddenly farmers get rankled when 200 turkeys spend the winter eating the silage or pecking around the corn bin.
“There is a large population of turkeys and limited wintering sites, so they tend to cause problems with farming operations in the winter,” said Ed Gorman, small game manager for Parks and Wildlife.
“We don’t have the problems everywhere, it’s very limited to the circumstances where there is excellent brood, nesting and summer habitat and very little natural winter habitat.”
He said two primary places for turkey conflicts are the farms around Big Sandy Creek near Limon and those in the Arikaree River drainage in Yuma County.
And it doesn’t lessen in the spring, when the demands of breeding make turkeys particularly aggressive.
Which brings us to the recent parks and wildlife commission meeting, where the matter of over-populous and aggressive wild turkeys was on the agenda.
The commission opted to increase hunting opportunity in the riparian areas in Yuma and Lincoln counties in far eastern Colorado.
Starting in 2012, over-the-counter private land tags will be available for parts of those counties, with unlimited either-sex tags for Yuma County.
Also, spring bearded turkey licenses were boosted from 766 to 881 and fall either-sex licenses increased from 501 to 526.
Additionally, a monthlong unlimited season will be held starting Dec. 15, 2012, in units 101 and 102 (parts of Yuma and Washington counties) and units 112 and 113 (Lincoln County).