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Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Boosting interest in fall turkey hunting, where participants have been declining nearly 5-percent annually, gets top billing in a draft of the Virginia Wild Turkey Management Plan. The document is scheduled to be released "on or about" Friday, according to wildlife officials. It is designed to provide guidance for managing turkey resources in Virginia through 2022.
The massive 65-page draft , more than a year in the works, was compiled by a 12-member stakeholder advisory committee that labored under the guidance of researchers from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and Virginia Tech.
The draft will be open to public input online, by mail and during six meetings across the state this month. It contains the most comprehensive information ever recorded on wild turkeys in Virginia. Beginning Friday, look for a copy on: www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/turkey/management-planning-process/
The plan calls for boosting fall turkey hunters by 30 percent, which would put them at 55,000, the same current level as spring hunters, whose numbers have remained stable since the mid-1990s. The fall increase would come from the recruitment of new hunters, expansion of the turkey population and, especially, the relaxing of regulations that restrict killing turkeys during the peak of deer season.
The latter point could create sharp debates between hunters who target turkeys exclusively and those who pursue deer but would like to kill a turkey should the opportunity arise.
A major change in turkey regulations in 1995 removed many of the opportunities hunters had to kill a turkey during the peak of deer season. That stone wall started the decline in fall hunting along with a drop in the kill and hunter satisfaction. It has gotten so bad that officials appear willing to take some heat by recommending additional fall hunting opportunities in an effort to reverse the alarming loss of the hunter base. That is the draft's biggest surprise.
"Although the allocation of harvest should focus on hunters who specifically pursue wild turkeys, it is important to maintain opportunities for other hunters, especially deer hunters, to take a turkey," the plan states.
The plan recommends to give hunters the opportunity to take 50 percent of the fall kill during yet to be designated portions of the first two weeks of the muzzleloading season and first two weeks of the general firearm's season. The draft says additional public input may be necessary to monitor hunter response. Any change in hunting regulations would have to be approved by the DGIF board.
While some sportsmen don't believe turkeys should be targets during the peak of the deer season, at stake is the preservation of the fall turkey hunting tradition and the hunter base it creates. There were 90,000 fall turkeys hunters in 1995, and that number dropped to 42,000 in 2011. This represents revenue that the DGIF can't afford to lose.
The plan notes there are many places in Virginia where the turkey population can be increased. While there are occasional complaints of crop damage, mostly to wine grapes, the population has not exceeded what the habitat and citizens will tolerate. Many non-hunting citizens enjoy the wildlife watching opportunities that turkeys provide.
Ethics and safety are addressed in the plan, and so is the alarming problem of poaching. One study documented in the plan revealed that legal hunters accounted for only 12 percent of the hen mortality and were exceeded by poachers who took 18 percent. More than half of the mortality was at the hands of predators.
Another strategy of the plan is habitat improvement on national forest and state wildlife management areas; however, the draft spends little time on habitat work.
Paper copies of the plan can be obtained from Holly Morris, Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech, 310 West Campus Drive, Blacksburg, Va. 24061. That's also the address for mail-in comments. Online and mailed comments will be received though Aug. 9. The public hearings are as follows:
Comments welcome at email@example.com
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