Original Published 10:02 Apr 20, 2022

By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The government of Alberta has outlined new objectives for wild turkey management in the South region.

The new management plan outlines three objectives aimed to improve Alberta’s understanding of and approach to Merriam’s turkeys – the wild turkey subspecies which resides in the foothills of the southwest region, as well as the Cypress Hills.

“Management plans for all our species has been a priority for our government for a few years, so we’ve been working pretty hard to fill in blanks. We previously didn’t have a management plan for wild turkeys,” Jason Caswell, provincial game bird specialist, told the News.

“In general, it’s probably responsible to have a plan in place to manage them in case we, all of a sudden, end up with a lot more or people start noticing they’re hard to find.”

While turkeys’ existence in the province is well-documented, Caswell says there is room for improvement in regards to recording their population numbers and habits.

“The first goal is just to get a better understanding of their abundance and spatial extent,” Caswell said. “A lot of times that goes unnoticed because we don’t have boots on the ground counting them … So, we’re working with some stakeholder groups like the Alberta Conservation Association to come up with ways to try to map existing turkey range as well as some size of population.

“The second goal would be to work with landowners as much as possible and mostly through education communication, to try to increase their tolerance. That might be just informing them … and might also be some assistance on how to deal with birds.

“Third goal is to increase recreational opportunities. (This includes) hunting opportunities as well as other opportunities (such as) being able to raise turkeys to release them into the wild. So, we’ll try to find ways to increase the range and population so more people can enjoy them.”

Caswell is looking forward to seeing outcomes of the new plan, as is Mike Verhage, senior biologist with the ACA.

“Our focus over the last year or two is to … better understand the trends and the population,” Verhage told the News. “And so what we’ve done is we’ve divided up the province into five focal areas – like zones – we’ve been working with private landowners and lease holders within those zones. What we’ve been doing is we’ve been contacting a minimum of 10 landowners per zone, per year, just as a bit of an objective. Working with the landowners, we’ve been reporting back observations and mostly winter counts.”

Verhage, who has been involved in the ACA’s efforts to record information about Alberta’s wild turkeys, invites anyone looking for more information or interested in working with the ACA to connect with them on their website or Facebook. He also directs them to the ACA’s annual summary report, set to be released this month.

This reprinted with permission from Medicine Hat News, Medicine Hat, Alberta