Conservation Success Story: Southwestern Manitoba Wild Turkey Releases
Wilderness Obession is always excited to celebrate wildlife conservation success stories, and the establishment of Merriam's wild turkey populations in Southwest Manitoba is something we have been applauding over the past year.
There have been two separate wild turkey releases in Southwestern Manitoba thus far in 2016, and the Wilderness Obsession team have been interested to talk with one of the insiders about how things have been going since last spring. The first one was on February 11th, 2016 in the Westman, Manitoba area, followed by a second release not far away on March 11th, 2016.
A year ago, in late Winter, 34 adult Merriam’s Wild Turkeys were released into their new homes in southwest Manitoba. These birds were captured from other healthy populations within Manitoba and held in a large pen until conditions were favorable for their release. The plan as shared with us last spring was to continue with 3-4 more releases in each location of around 15 birds each time.
Local conservation groups, along with the Manitoba government, have been very supportive of these trap and transfers, which involve taking excess birds from areas with high populations to redistribute them to places across the province where they are attempting to establish new flocks. Some of these birds were trapped in Brandon, MB, but most of them were captured in Souris, MB. Prior to release, the birds are sexed, aged, and banded for indentification. They are held in a holding pen short term until such time as conditions are favourable for release into their new areas.
The birds are healthy, wild-hatched birds from Manitoba, and are captured mostly either through baited box-traps or a cannon net-trap known as the «Martin NetBlaster.» Our friend Kent Michie, biologist and co-host of “Trigger Effect” of Wild TV fame, explained to us the process in his excellent interview about last year's release in our article here.
Today, we’re joined again by Kent, to discuss both releases and his excitement over the future in Southwest Manitoba. The interview was conducted last week between the two releases, but plans were coming into focus very quickly for the second one.
Wilderness Obsession: Last March, you were involved in the successful trap and transfer of 40 wild turkeys to an area in Southwestern Manitoba that has never held turkeys before. Can you give us your observations and also your scientific opinion on the success of this trap and transfer?
Kent: As far as we can tell it was very successful. The birds were divided into two groups and released in two separate locations last March. They stayed within the immediate area for several months and then slowly started to split up into smaller family groups and disperse into a wider region as the year went on.
Wilderness Obsession: Did you do a poult survey in the area in 2015 and if so, what were the results of that?
Kent: No poult surveys were conducted officially however many of the land owners with myself included were excited to see hens with poults in tow on several occasions in a variety of location. Some hens had up to 10 young with them. Also this fall many un-banded juvenile birds were spotted in the company of adults with bands. As far as the survival rate of the young birds it is hard to estimates as we have only received one release so far and our area of release is heavy wooded and vast in size.
Wilderness Obsession: You told us that successful introduction would include 3-4 more introductions of wild turkeys through trap and transfers. Can you give details of any plans to do another one in your area in 2016?
Kent: We are very excited that later this week we will be releasing our next group of birds on or near the locations of last year’s release. The new birds to the area will be more successful establishing a foothold if they can connect with the birds from last year’s release that are currently here. This will also help strengthen the gene pool by introducing new adult breeding birds.
Wilderness Obsession: We saw CWTF posted pictures from a February 11, 2016 trap and transfer in Westman, Manitoba. Was anyone from the Trigger Effect team involved?
Kent: Unfortunately no we were not involved in that trapping project due to scheduling issues. However some of the birds trapped in the project will be in the group that is destine to be released here in our area. I will be attending the release of these birds this coming Friday.
Wilderness Obsession: How far away is this from the area of the transfer in 2015?
Kent: As the “Turkey Flies” it is not that far. The birds that are captured and to be released are wild raised birds from areas not too far away that the new habitats would be totally foreign. They will be very custom to the food sources available and the climate in the new locations and should adjust nicely.
Wilderness Obsession: From the Manitoba Wildlife Branch page, being non-residents, it is not clear to us where the resident wild turkey hunts are. Can residents harvest wild turkeys in the areas where the trap and transfers occurred and does this present a risk to their success?
Kent: The hunting areas are open in most of Manitoba for wild turkey. As they are very well established in many southern regions of the province it is an open general season. The relocation to new areas is to help expand on the healthy populations that already exist. As far as the newly released bird are concerned when it comes to hunting pressure we have given this a lot of thought. With the help of many land owners and local fish and game clubs we have been able to pick release locations that are very difficult to access that have suitable habitat to allow these birds a chance to get established. Once the populations are strong in these areas the birds will naturally expand into newer and wider territories. When this happen I am sure these expanding populations of birds will come under hunting pressures however the core populations will be safe and secure in these remote areas. It is also important to note that the local landowners, clubs, and people in these areas are looking out for the newly released birds. This is a huge help when it comes to projects like this when you can have a community of watchdogs.
Wilderness Obsession: We saw that Manitoba Minister of Conservation of Water Stewardship (Thomas Nevakshonoff) was an observer in the Westman transfer this winter. How supportive has the government been toward these trap and transfers? Are they financial supporters of the initiatives?
Kent: I personally have never worked with Thomas Nevaskshonoff as I missed the February Trap/transfer date but I must say this type of projects would not be possible without the help of the government. The government’s involvement and assistance are crucial in the success of these releases. I have to take my hat off to all involved in these releases from the government personal, club members, landowners, and the volunteers for making this a success. We all say we want to help the environment however few of us ever have the chance to truly make a difference and help put critters back into the wild. Projects like this are instrumental in see real change that can be seen in a short period of time.
Wilderness Obsession: We have heard it said that even if every Tom was killed in a spring harvest, the population would be fine because a large enough proportion of the poults would be male. Is this true, or just a tall tale?
Kent: That kind of hunting pressure is never a good thing to any population regardless of how resilient the species may be. I do not know of any science based surveys that would confirm this statement but I am sure it is a hot topic amongst hunting forms and tailgate talks. When it comes to turkeys they can rebound fairly quickly to hunting pressures as long as the habitat is available to raise young to breeding age. Here are a few facts: Clutch size: average 11 eggs (range 6 - 18), nest success: 40-60%, annual survival rates average 57% for females and 35% for males, good populations normally average about 10 turkeys per 1.4 square kilometers of forest or may reach 20-30 turkeys per square mile in the best habitats, even heavily hunted areas seldom sustain hunting losses of as many as 50% of the adult males (information obtained from the USA in an area with similar habitat and same species of wild turkey). Although not directly pertinent to the Manitoba area it does provide an understanding in a similar situation.
Wilderness Obsession: You mentioned previously that the province had undertaken a turkey estimate in 2010, are there any plans for future surveys?
Kent: I do not know of any counts that are slated in the near future but I assume the data will need to be updated due to increased popularity to projects like this.
Wilderness Obsession: Could you guess on current numbers?
Kent: Again the numbers would be very hard to estimate but due to succeeding mild winters and springs I can only guess that turkey numbers are on the increase in most areas.
Wilderness Obsession: In Eastern Canada we've had a remarkably warm winter with almost no snow remaining on the ground. Has the weather been equally friendly this winter and what kind of effect do you expect this has on turkey populations?
Kent: As previously mentioned we have also experienced a mild winter. The turkey is a hardy bird and I can almost bet that they are enjoying the benefits as well. This I am sure will result in higher poult success this year and we should see an increase in bird numbers.
Wilderness Obsession: Let's talk about CWTF for a moment. We know that Trigger Effect and Thunder Boyz productions have been adamant supporters of CWTF, and the Southwest Strutters branch in particular appears to be extremely active in your area. Do you have any comments about the organization and the growth we've seen as well as the outlook for the future?
Kent: CWTF and all their chapters across Canada just like the Southwest Strutter’s chapter, are organizations that are like-minded conservationists with a goal of really making a difference. CWTF has grown a lot and continues to grow due to the tireless efforts of all these people involved. The Trigger Effect team has been a long-time supporter of CWTF because we can see they, and all their members, are making a difference. It is very important that organizations like CWTF are out there not only for the turkeys but for the habitats they live in and share with other wildlife as well. In closing, I would like to say if you are not a member of CWTF we encourage you to join.
Following the release on March 11th, 2016, Kent said, “Last March the 17 turkeys that were released in the same location and have done very well with many hens nesting and raising young. With the help of Manitoba Conservation, Bandon, Rivers & Rapid City Wildlife Clubs, CWTF and many volunteer students from Assiniboine Community College and University of Manitoba the release was very successful. The additional 12 birds released today will help strengthen the turkey numbers in this area. Thanks to all who were a part of this project.”
We echo the words of Kent in regards to the CWTF and the excellent work of this conservation group. Despite only being two years old, the organization is growing quickly and getting national recognition for their work. Wilderness Obsession have been members since the beginning and encourage all outdoor fanatics to join and get involved at www.cwtf.ca.
Once again, we’d like to thank Kent for his time and for sharing his experiences with us. Make sure to check out Kent and the rest of the Trigger Effect team as their fourth season begins on Wild TV on July 1st, 2016. Trigger Effect is on the air four times a week, and continues to be a part of the excellent “Hunting Night in Canada” lineup on Sunday evenings, airing at 9:00pm CST.
Contact us and let us know!