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November 26, 2014DNR on the forefront of successful wild turkey re-introduction efforts
The wild turkey once thrived in great numbers throughout South Carolina according to historic accounts and in some areas excellent populations persisted into the early 1950’s. In most parts of the piedmont and coastal plain, however, wild turkey populations declined dramatically during the early 1900’s. Habitat loss associated with land-use patterns and over-exploitation were the primary causes of the reduction in wild turkey numbers.
In the piedmont and mountains, turkey populations were largely restored through live trapping and transplanting of wild turkeys initiated in the 1950’s by the S.C. Wildlife Resources Department, now S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR). At the time, agency wildlife biologists and technicians were instrumental in the development of cannon net technology to trap turkeys, a technique that was quickly adopted by other states. A total of 328 turkeys were trapped and relocated from the Francis Marion National Forest from 1951-1958 resulting in birds becoming widely dispersed throughout the upper portions of the state. Today, the piedmont and mountains continue to have some of the best turkey populations in the state.
In 1970, DNR developed a Wild Turkey Research Project with primary funding provided by the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. The original objectives were to develop a wild turkey census method to survey rapidly expanding populations in the piedmont and to ascertain distribution patterns relative to habitat management practices.
In 1975, a comprehensive biological plan was developed for the restoration of the wild turkey in the coastal plain areas which formerly supported good turkey populations. The first step was to identify the best potential restoration sites throughout the state. Each site was then evaluated to determine the quantity and quality of habitat and its longevity based on local land-use trends. A priority list of sites was established based on habitat characteristics and location of each site. The initial list consisted of sites with a minimum of 10,000 acres in a contiguous block. In most cases, a group of landowners combined their properties to meet the size requirements which increased the number of persons actively protecting the new turkeys.
Other lists with the minimum acreage requirement being dropped to 5,000 acres were compiled and stocked annually. In 1991, the minimum acreage requirement was reduced to 3,000 acres.
A normal stocking of turkeys on each restoration site consisted of approximately five gobblers and ten hens. Prior to stocking these sites, a ten-year cooperative agreement and land-use data form was completed and signed by each landowner involved. During this restoration effort, which ended several years ago, a total of 3,716 turkeys were restocked on 205 restoration sites across the state
Many of the birds restocked statewide came from the piedmont turkey populations which were a direct result of the restocking activity in the 1950’s. Through the efforts of this restoration program, wild turkeys are now present in all 46 counties in South Carolina.
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