Chris Schulz Published

WVU Researcher Examines Declining Wild Turkey Populations

Wild turkeys and many other birds have benefited from the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which compensates landowners to restore native habitats.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, a West Virginia University researcher is looking into the apparent decline of wild turkeys in several states.

Unlike the farm-raised fowl that grace holiday tables across America, wildlife conservationists say wild turkey populations are declining.

With funding from hunting advocacy organization National Wild Turkey Federation, West Virginia University Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology Chris Rota will study wild turkey populations in South Dakota. He will use radio transmitters placed on turkeys to better understand their movements and nesting locations.

“Turkey populations are strongly driven primarily by hen survival, and secondarily by reproduction,” he said. “Some of the big factors that might be limiting the population could be predation of adult females. It could be hunter harvest of adult females, and that’s something that we can change via management. But reproduction can also be a part of this as well making sure that there’s appropriate nesting habitat to produce young.”

Rota points out that protecting potential turkey habitats will have a broader reaching impact beyond helping hunters.

“We are protecting that habitat for a whole suite of other critters that are going to use that habitat as well,” he said. “When people enjoy going to wildlife management areas, maybe to hike or to view wildlife, they’re looking at a whole suite of species, even if that habitat was set aside for hunters.”

Rota said hunters drive conservation efforts because the fees they pay, from excise taxes on firearms to hunting licenses, fund wildlife conservation efforts.

“Hunters for a century or more have been really integral in the conservation, not just of our iconic big game species, like turkey or white tailed deer, but also in conservation of myriad species,” he said.

Reversing downward trends is important because turkeys play an important ecological role as prey, but also a societal role as part of many Native American food and cultural systems.