Wyoming Imports and Exports
Wild turkeys are on the move, and some may be setting up housekeeping near you. The 1999-2000 winter was a busy one for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

In January, G&F workers near Sheridan caught 58 Merriam’s turkeys. These birds were taken over the Bighorn Mountains and released near Worland. Original plans were to ship the birds to Utah but wildlife workers couldn’t obtain approval for Wyoming travel.

In February, Sheridan and Buffalo wildlife workers, along with the Utah Department of Natural Resources, trapped 65 Merriam’s wild turkeys. These birds made their Utah destination.

As winter continued, Gillette wildlife workers captured 78 Merriam’s in a subdivision near Gillette. The birds were moved to an area northeast of Gillette.

Casper G&F employees captured 21 turkeys south of Douglas. The birds were shipped to Utah. Wild turkeys were also trapped and released along the Little Missouri River in northeastern Wyoming.

In March, 33 turkeys were also trapped near Sheridan for an intended release near Kremmling, Colo. Due to some snags with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, those plans changed and the birds found new homes near Albin, Wyoming.

"We have more wild turkeys, and so we get more requests from landowners to move turkeys when there are more turkeys," says Harry Harju, G&F assistant Wildlife Division chief. "Right now, only two states are providing other states with Merriam’s turkeys, and that’s Wyoming and South Dakota.

"Blood testing is a continual problem. Merriam’s turkey blood produces a false positive reaction to the quickest test, plate testing, which makes states believe they have mycoplasma or salmonella, two problem bacteria for poultry producers. It takes at least 48 hours to confirm whether the birds are actually infected or not. None have been, but the birds must sit in transport boxes while the blood is being tested. Luckily, turkeys tolerate being in transport boxes for up to six days."

Besides sending Merriam’s wild turkeys to other states, Wyoming received 172 Rio Grande wild turkeys from Oklahoma. These birds were released at five locations along the Shoshone River in the Big Horn Basin, two locations along Chugwater Creek near Chugwater, and along Rawhide Creek between Lingle and Lusk.

Harju says the Rio Grande wild turkeys should fare better than Merriam’s turkeys in river bottom country. "Merriam’s are mountain turkeys, and Rio Grandes are birds of river bottoms and breaks."

Rio Grande wild turkeys are doing very well in places where they have been introduced in Wyoming. As an example, 35 Rio Grande birds were released near Chugwater in 1999. Southeast Wyoming wildlife biologist Mark Zornes confirmed in March there are now more than 130 Rio Grande turkeys in the area.

"It’s very normal to release wild turkeys and hunt them within five years," Harju says. "They lay a high number of eggs. They have a high hatching rate. What’s happening with wild turkeys of the Rio Grande subspecies in Wyoming is they are reproducing and dispersing in the drainages. They’re doing exactly what we thought they would, but we haven’t had a bad winter recently."

Next year, wild turkey trapping efforts will continue. Montana and California have expressed interest in receiving some of Wyoming’s wild turkeys. "If turkey numbers stay high, landowners will probably want us to move some," Harju says. "We will request more Rio Grande turkeys from Oklahoma, so we’ll use our birds to trade for others. We want to move enough Merriam’s turkeys so that we can afford to bring some Oklahoma turkeys to Wyoming."

States that provide turkeys for trades are compensated $150 per turkey from the National Wild Turkey Federation.

If Wyoming obtains Rio Grande turkeys from Oklahoma in 2001, they will likely be introduced to more areas in the Big Horn Basin, near Douglas and in the Albin Hills northeast of Cheyenne. A landowner survey was recently conducted near Baggs, and Harju says a few landowners were open to receiving wild turkeys and allowing hunting. Most landowners weren’t, including those where the turkeys would likely spend most of their time. As a result, the Baggs area probably won’t receive any wild turkeys in the near future. "We’re not going to use hunters’ money to put turkeys where nobody is going to allow hunting," Harju adds.

Much of western Wyoming doesn’t fit the definition of "suitable habitat" for wild turkeys. "There’s very little for the birds to eat in the winter," he says. "A lot of western Wyoming has too much snow for too long, and simply, there’s not enough mast (seeds) for the turkeys to eat and survive the winters."

Harju says the turkeys that have recently been moved have come from places where hunting hasn’t kept up with the increase in numbers of turkeys. "We try not to use trapping to solve an overpopulation problem where landowners don’t allow hunting."

The turkey trapping efforts, called Target 2000, are parts of a joint effort between the Federation and states. The campaign’s goal was to introduce wild turkeys to all suitable habitats by the end of 2000.

"Target 2000 was pretty much completed east of the Mississippi River," Harju says. "Now west of the Mississippi is where all the turkeys are needed. The program has a new name since we’re into the year 2000. It’s called Making Tracks. In the next five years, we will probably have exhausted all places to move wild turkeys in the United States."

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