As baseball legend Yogi Berra might say, it was deja vu all over again Wednesday when Texas Parks and Wildlife Department released the first of 80 Eastern wild turkeys on the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area.
The 11,000-acre Anderson County WMA is one of three sites scheduled to be stocked this year as part of a new super stocking philosophy. Other sites include a private ranch in Henderson County and a mining reclamation site in Rusk County, which has already been partially stocked.
TPWD has long been trying to re-establish wild turkeys throughout eastern Texas. The most recent attempt was in the 1980s and 90s in which more than 7,000 turkeys purchased from other states were stocked. Some of those efforts, in which typically three toms were released with a dozen hens, have resulted in viable populations. For the most part, however, the effort has been unsuccessful causing the department to roll back a spring hunting season from 43 to 28 counties.
Following studies in other states as well as research in Texas, the department is attempting to jumpstart the restoration program with saturation stockings of 20 toms and 60 hens. Unlike the lower stocking rates in the past, it is hoped that a higher survival rate and quick nesting will result in enough birds to overcome early losses to predators or natural mortality.
The department looked at four potential stocking sites for the first round of stockings, but only three met all the criteria.
It is hoped that as the birds fill the original stocking sites they will begin to expand into new areas. Hunting will be closed for at least five years in any county that receives birds during these release efforts.
The Engling area’s first load came from Missouri and Tennessee. At least five other states are attempting to trap birds for the program.
The department is paying the $525 per bird cost with money from the state’s Upland Gamebird stamp. The National Wild Turkey Federation is facilitating the transfer between states through its Making Tracks Program. The department currently has funding for the project for this year and 2014.
East Texas had wild turkeys up until the early 20th century. Subsistence and unregulated market hunting took its toll on the population. The last birds were seen in the 1920s until the department began a series of stocking programs in the 1950s.
While Texas has more than 500,000 Rio Grande turkeys, they are better suited to nesting in the drier portion of the state west of the Trinity River. Suitable Eastern turkey counties range typically through the Pineywoods and Post Oak regions of the state.