Georgia WRD Rolls Out Turkey Plan

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Hunters asked to comment on state plan that will take turkey hunters through 2026.

Turkey hunters are a passionate bunch, especially in light of a number of years of poor hatches that have resulted in lower bird numbers. Now is the time for that passionate bunch to speak out.

WRD just rolled out their draft on the “Strategic Management Plan for Wild Turkeys In Georgia (2017-2026).”

“This long-term strategic plan will serve as the guiding document for statewide turkey management efforts in our state—but first, we need feedback from our turkey hunters and other interested Georgians,” says Kevin Lowrey, state turkey biologist with WRD.

Several interesting tidbits from the “Plan” include: Conducting research on the effects of coyotes on wild turkey populations; conducting a statewide or regional gobbler banding study to determine survival and harvest rates; exploring additional hunting opportunities on other state managed lands (e.g., Public Fishing Areas, State Parks) and on other publicly owned (e.g., county, federal) or privately owned lands.

Lowering the current spring limit of three gobblers and limiting the number of jakes in the harvest—two things that GON readers continue to express interest in—are not specifically mentioned in the Plan, although WRD says they are willing to look at both tools as management options.

“I like the Plan, but I am a little concerned that they didn’t specifically mention the turkey limit. That doesn’t cost any money, and it’s just giving turkeys a little kick-start to help the problem of lower numbers of birds,” said Donald Jarrett, of Eatonton.

Donald is a GON writer and hunts every day day of turkey season. He spends many hours on public lands in middle Georgia.

“We could stand to drop the limit back to two birds, we’re trying to strive for better quality hunting, and one way to do it is to preserve some seed,” said Donald.

Kevin Lowrey said WRD is certainly open to a discussion on dropping the limit back to two gobblers per hunter per season.

“We will be monitoring turkey populations, and when those monitoring efforts fall below certain levels over time, it triggers action. We will determine the action at that time. Lowering the bag limit is definitely a management tool that we would consider.”

Since Georgia hunting regulations operate on a 2-year cycle, the earliest that a lower turkey bag limit could be implemented would be the spring 2020.

Donald would also like to limit the number of jakes that are allowed in the annual harvest.

“I think shooting jakes for anyone old enough to buy a license (16 years old) should be a no-no,” said Donald. “You give a turkey one year past his first year, and he’s a mature bird. It doesn’t take long to start stockpiling a few birds if we protect what we have.”

Kevin said limiting the number of 1-year-old jakes from the harvest is another management option to be considered.

“It would allow more gobblers to carry over from year to year, and that can smooth out the peaks and troughs in the harvest due variable recruitment. It would be a tool that could be considered,” said Kevin.

Hunters are encouraged to attend and speak at one of the four upcoming public meetings regarding the Plan. All meetings begin at 7 p.m.

October 4, 2017
UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center (Room 19, 15 RDC Road, Tifton, GA 31793)
Pickens County Administrative Offices (Suite 168, 1266 E. Church Street, Jasper, GA 30143)

October 5, 2017
• Monroe County Commissioners’ Building
(3rd Floor Conference Room, 38 West Main Street, Forsyth, GA  31029)
• Ogeechee Technical College Conference Center (1 Joseph E. Kennedy Blvd., Statesboro, GA 30458)

Any participant at one of the WRD-hosted October meetings may present data, make a statement or comment, or offer a viewpoint or argument, either orally or in writing. Statements should be concise to permit everyone an opportunity to speak. Participants must register upon arrival and notify the registering official of their intent to give a statement.

Those unable to attend a meeting may submit input by Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. Statements may be submitted online at http://georgiawildlife.com/regulations/meetings

Written statements should be mailed to: GA DNR/Wildlife Resources Division/Game Management Section; Attn: Tina Johannsen; 2067 U.S. Highway 278, S.E.; Social Circle, Georgia 30025. For more info, call (770) 918-6404.

WRD has identified five fundamental goals in the Plan. Below are those five goals, their objectives and strategies.

Goal 1. Population Goal: Ensure the Long-Term Conservation of Georgia’s Wild Turkey Population:

Objective: Annually collect and analyze biological data to monitor wild turkey population trends.
Strategies:
1. Monitor overall population through catch per unit effort (CPUE) indices of turkeys seen per hour from hunter survey data with a long-term goal of 0.55 over a 4-year average.
2. Monitor gobbler population through CPUE indices of gobblers heard per hour from hunter survey data with a long-term goal of 0.45 over a 4-year average.
3. Monitor female population through CPUE indices of hens per observer from the summer poult survey with a long-term goal of 3.0 hens per observer over a 4-year average.
4. Monitor Breeding Bird Survey data for long-term trends as supplemental information.
5. Periodically evaluate our monitoring techniques in order to best answer wild turkey population questions, while maintaining or improving accuracy and efficiency.
6. Explore using current technology (internet, email, phone apps, etc.) to make participation in the Turkey Hunting Population Index survey easy and available to more hunters.

Objective: Annually collect and analyze biological data to monitor wild turkey reproduction.
Strategies:
1. Conduct annual brood surveys to estimate reproductive indices such as poults/hen with a goal of 1.5 poults/hen over a 4-year average.
2. Periodically evaluate our monitoring techniques in order to best answer wild turkey reproduction questions, while maintaining or improving accuracy and efficiency.
3. Explore using current technology (internet, email, phone apps, etc.) to engage citizen scientists to help with the brood survey.

Objective: Investigate, monitor and mitigate potential limiting factors on wild turkey populations.
Strategies:
1. Develop specific guidelines for private and public land managers to implement predation management programs under their approved wild turkey management plans.
2. Monitor disease issues and outbreaks in cooperation with SCWDS.
3. Continue and expand outreach efforts to educate the public on limiting factors of wild turkey populations.

Goal 2. Habitat Goal: Increase and Maintain Wild Turkey Habitat Throughout Georgia. 

Objective: Quantify current wild turkey habitat in Georgia and increase habitat by 10 percent on WRD-managed lands.
Strategies:
1. Use various methods (remote sensing, staff surveys, etc.) to quantify existing wild turkey habitat on WRD-managed lands.
2. Use management techniques such as prescribed burning and thinning to improve and increase wild turkey habitat, with an emphasis on nesting cover and brood-rearing habitat.
3. On WRD-managed properties, biological staff will ensure long term plans, timber plans, and periodic reviews on state lands include practices that benefit wild turkeys.
4. Seek opportunities to assist other public land managers to conduct management practices that are beneficial to wild turkeys.
5. Continue to partner with conservation groups to promote beneficial management on public lands.

Objective: Promote habitat management practices that sustain or increase wild turkey populations on public and private lands.
Strategies:
1. Develop regional best management practices for wild turkey management for private landowners.
2. Promote and provide wild turkey management advice to landowners.
3. Update and reprint our Wild Turkey in Georgia book to distribute to interested
landowners.
4. Provide accurate and timely turkey management information to various media outlets.
5. Develop a wild turkey management presentation to be used for regional program requests.
6. Provide the above referenced materials online via WRD’s social media and website.
7. Continue to partner with conservation groups and other governmental agencies to promote habitat management beneficial to wild turkeys on private lands.
8. Explore opportunities to hold workshops and outreach/educational events on managing habitat for wild turkeys.

Goal 3. Sustainable Use Goal: Maximize Sustainable Hunting Opportunity 

Objective: Annually collect and analyze hunter harvest data to monitor trends in gobbler harvest.
Strategies
1. Use the Game Check system to collect hunter-reported harvest data.
2. Continue using a post season telephone survey to collect hunter harvest data and estimate statewide harvest.
3. Augment phone survey and Game Check data sets by using the harvest card survey to collect data from avid hunters.
4. Use the best possible statistical and analytical methods available to evaluate these data.
5. Investigate opportunities to improve hunter harvest survey methodologies while
maintaining existing long term data sets.

Objective: Provide sustainable, quality hunting opportunities on public lands.
Strategies
1. Set scientifically informed and biologically appropriate regulations on public lands.
2. Annually monitor hunter numbers, turkey harvest, hunter success rate, and hunter satisfaction rates on WMAs.
3. Maintain hunter satisfaction rate of 80 percent on WMAs over a 4-year average.
4. Continue to educate the hunting population about the timing of the spring season and why we do not have a fall season.
5. Conduct periodic WMA-specific hunter surveys to determine factors related to hunt quality, effort, access, and success on the areas.
6. Work with DNR Law Enforcement Division to promote compliance with turkey hunting regulations on WMAs.

Objective: Provide sustainable, quality hunting opportunities on private lands.
Strategies
1. Set scientifically informed and biologically appropriate statewide hunting regulations.
2. Annually monitor hunter numbers, turkey harvest, hunter success rate and hunter satisfaction rates.
3. Maintain a hunter satisfaction rate of 90 percent statewide over a 4 year average.
4. Educate turkey hunters on private lands about levels of sustainable turkey harvest on their properties.
5. Continue to educate the hunting population about the timing of the spring season and why we do not have a fall season.
6. Promote compliance with turkey hunting regulations.

Objective: Maintain or improve access for wild turkey hunting.
Strategies:
1. Explore providing wild turkey hunting opportunities on other state managed lands (e.g., Public Fishing Areas, State Parks).
2. Encourage public wild turkey hunting opportunities on other publicly owned (e.g., county, federal) or privately owned lands.
3. Investigate financial resources and opportunities to provide wild turkey hunting access to additional lands.
4. Partner with conservation groups to improve turkey hunting access.
5. Provide turkey hunting information for various media outlets.

Goal 4. Research Goal: Advance the Current Base of Knowledge on Turkey Management Issues and Questions

Objective: Initiate and support scientifically valid research projects and investigations to answer management questions and identify effective management actions that support the other objectives.
Strategies
1. Work closely with the Southeastern Wild Turkey Working Group, NWTF Technical Committee, UGA & other universities to identify and design appropriate research based upon our prioritized list (Appendix C) when funding is available.
2. Support wild turkey research that enhances our understanding of the relationships among the various factors that affect wild turkey population dynamics (habitat, weather, predation, harvest mortality, non-harvest mortality, etc.).
3. Develop and utilize banding and GIS methodology for estimating wild turkey population parameters.
4. Maintain a list of research priorities for wild turkeys in Georgia (Appendix C).
5. Utilize the harvest reporting system (Game Check) to improve surveys and
methodologies for managing wild turkeys in Georgia.
6. Develop popular articles and other materials related to research projects for outreach and education.

Research Priority List (Appendix C)
1. Conduct a statewide or regional gobbler banding study to determine annual survival and harvest mortality rates usable in a population model.
2. Evaluate habitat management practices (e.g. prescribed burning, timber thinning) and their impacts on factors such as nest success or gobbler harvest.
3. Conduct research on reproductive ecology (nesting, hatching, poult and hen survival) in the mountain physiographic province. We have recent data from the Upper Coastal Plain in southern Georgia and as of 2017 there is a new research project started in the Piedmont. We need current information in other areas (e.g., Ridge and Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains).
4. Explore methods to improve or refine estimating reproductive success (Brood Surveys).
5. Investigate opportunities to develop a statistically-based population model.
6. Conduct research on the effects of coyotes on wild turkey populations.
7. Develop a database using GIS to track weather, habitat, and land use trend changes over time. Once built, this system could be updated annually and used to evaluate relationships between these factors and turkey populations changes (other species also).

Objective: Collect and analyze survey data to evaluate hunter attitudes and opinions on wild turkey management, regulations, and related issues.
Strategies
1. Conduct periodic hunter surveys to determine factors related to hunt quality, effort, access, and success on wildlife management areas.
2. Conduct periodic hunter surveys to determine factors related to hunt quality, effort, access, and success across private lands.
3. Utilize various sources of data collection including telephone surveys, online surveys, and harvest card surveys.

Goal 5. Nuisance Goal: Mitigate Wild Turkey Damage
Objective: Minimize conflicts in urban and agricultural areas and provide guidance for mitigating damage when it occurs.
Strategies:
1. Develop a policy for addressing human-wild turkey conflicts.
2. Create and maintain information for media outlets that includes specific nuisance abatement recommendations for wild turkeys.

Again, any participant at one of the WRD-hosted October meetings may present data, make a statement or comment, or offer a viewpoint or argument, either orally or in writing. Statements should be concise to permit everyone an opportunity to speak. Participants must register upon arrival and notify the registering official of their intent to give a statement.

The entire, 32-page Plan can be viewed HERE.

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