Talking Turkey Conservation

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Written by Lydia Saldaña

Thanksgiving week may seem like an odd time to think about turkey conservation. After all, according to the folks who track such things, 46 million turkeys end up on American dinner tables on the fourth Thursday of November. Their wild brethren usually escape the dinner table fate on that day, as most of us prefer a farm-raised bird on Thanksgiving. Healthy populations of wild turkeys across Texas are just one of many things to be thankful for this week.

Photo: Jonathan Vail

There are three subspecies of wild turkey in Texas, and thanks to efforts by landowners, conservation organizations and agencies like Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), turkey populations in Texas are healthy. It wasn’t always that way. Like many wildlife species across the country, turkeys were almost extirpated from their home range in the days before wildlife regulations. By the late 1800s, there were few turkeys left in Texas. Thanks to conservation-minded citizens, the first turkey hunting regulations were adopted in Texas in 1903, establishing a hunting season and bag limit. The dollars sportsmen and women spend on hunting licenses, along with a federal excise tax paid on firearms and ammunition, supports the wildlife conservation efforts that have brought many species back from the brink of extinction, including white-tailed deer, wood ducks, and wild turkeys.

The eastern wild turkey is one of the subspecies that can be found in Texas and has been the focus of intensive conservation efforts, including re-stocking the bird in suitable habitat in the eastern third of the state. Since 2014, more than 600 wild turkeys have been released at seven sites, including Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area near Palestine and in the woods of the Angelina National Forest and Brushy Creek in Anderson County. Another 160 birds are planned to be stocked in East Texas this winter. Thanks to these efforts, the population of the eastern wild turkey continues to grow.

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