November 10 - Wildlife Report for Utah

Thursday, November 9, 2017 - 1:30pm
DWR

Utah Has a Thriving Population of Wild Turkeys

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, many Utahns aren’t aware that they share their state with a thriving population of wild turkeys. Late November is a perfect time to get outside and see them.

Turkeys in Utah

Today, Utah’s turkey population numbers almost 25,000 wild birds. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, until the 1950s, established turkey populations hadn’t been seen in Utah in 100 years or more.

“Based on historical and archeological evidence,” says Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, “it’s clear Native Americans and turkeys coexisted in Utah. That evidence includes pictographs, petroglyphs, blankets made from turkey feathers and turkey bones found at places Native Americans lived.”

Except for a failed reintroduction in the 1920s, no records exist of turkeys being in Utah from the time Europeans started exploring the state to the successful reintroduction of birds in the 1950s.

In the 1950s, biologists with the Utah Department of Fish and Game (the agency’s name was changed to the Division of Wildlife Resources in 1967) successfully released Merriam’s wild turkeys in southern Utah. Subsequent releases, of both the Merriam’s and Rio Grande subspecies, happened through the years. Wild turkey populations in Utah really took off, though, starting in 1989.

“As the years went by,” Robinson says, “houses and roads started eating up pheasant habitat in parts of the state. As a result, pheasant populations in those areas declined. We wanted to give the state’s upland game hunters another opportunity, and wild turkeys fit the bill perfectly. Under the leadership of former DWR Upland Game Coordinator Dean Mitchell, turkey reintroductions increased, and the state’s turkey population took off.”

At first, biologists brought birds in from other states, with South Dakota providing most of the birds Utah received. Now, turkeys in Utah are doing so well that biologists can simply move birds within the state, either to start new populations or supplement populations that have room for more birds.

Viewing turkeys

In addition to gathering around your table to enjoy a turkey feast, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is a great time to get outside and see wild turkeys in Utah.

As winter approaches, Robinson says turkeys move out of the high country and congregate in areas at lower elevations. He says two of the best places to see turkeys are agricultural fields, and also rivers and streams, which are near the high-country areas in which the birds live during the warmer months. “Slopes of hills and mountains that face south are also good places to look,” he says.

Turkeys usually stay in these lower elevation areas, and on south-facing slopes, until March. Then, as the snow melts and the temperature climbs, the birds travel to higher elevations to breed and nest.

While April can be a difficult month to find birds, it’s also the most exciting time to watch them. “April is when the birds’ breeding season begins,” Robinson says. “The males are in their bright, colorful breeding plumage. Watching them strut and gobble, as they try to draw the attention of female turkeys, is one of the most interesting and exhilarating things you’ll see in nature.”

To find turkeys in April, you’ll have to travel to higher elevations. “Once you arrive in a higher elevation area,” he says, “look for three things: large cottonwood or Ponderosa pine trees the birds can roost in, thick brush the birds can feed and hide in, and water.

“Sometimes,” he says, “you’ll even see them as you’re driving along a road. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”

A general idea of where turkeys live in Utah is available in the 2017 – 2018 Utah Upland Game and Turkey Guidebook. You can get the free guidebook at www.wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.

“A map that shows where turkeys live in Utah is available on page 35,” Robinson says. “The dark splotches on the map indicate the general areas where turkeys are found in the state.”

If you have questions about viewing or hunting turkeys in Utah, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR’s Salt Lake City office at 801-538-4700.

Fishing reports  -  available at http://wildlife.utah.gov/hotspots .

 

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Ride along on mule deer classification

What: Many hunts are over, and winter hasn’t quite arrived — that means it’s time to take a closer look at Utah’s mule deer populations. Starting in the middle of November, DWR biologists will go into the field to check on the deer herds. Specifically, they’re looking at the numbers of bucks, does and fawns, and how those numbers compare to each other within the herds. They will use this data to assess whether the herds are meeting management objectives. 

 

Releasing pheasants on public land

What: DWR personnel have been working with volunteers to release more than 10,000 pheasants across Utah. This effort is providing birds for the 2017 pheasant hunt, which began last Saturday. 

Central Utah

Introducing Bonneville cutthroat trout to Cascade Springs

What: Next week, DWR biologists will work with the U.S. Forest Service and volunteers to stock native Bonneville cutthroat trout in Cascade Springs. The springs are located in a scenic, wooded area just off the Alpine Loop. A boardwalk surrounds the springs, so future visitors can get a good look at the trout in their natural habitat. R

 

Seeding the Tank Hollow Fire burn area

What: Within the next few weeks, DWR habitat biologists will work with the U.S. Forest Service to reseed more than 1,000 acres burned during the Tank Hollow Fire. Habitat managers will work with a pilot to aerially drop a seed mix that produces grasses, flowering plants and shrubs. As they grow, the plants will stabilize the soil and also provide food for wildlife. 

Improving habitat for mule deer

What: Bullhogs are heavy machines that the DWR uses to improve habitat. The bullhogs tear out and shred pinion/juniper trees, leaving room for widespread sagebrush growth. Over the next few weeks, the DWR will use a bullhog near the town of Orangeville to mulch pinion/juniper trees. In a few years — long after the loud, messy machinery is gone — this area will offer prime habitat for mule deer and other species.