Released Gould’s turkey flies into conservation history
SONOITA, Ariz. -- With a quick flapping of powerful wings, a Gould’s turkey flew its way into history books Feb. 9, becoming the 200,000th wild turkey in the U.S. to be captured and released back into the wild.
The assembled Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) officials, U.S. Forest Service representatives and volunteers knew they were witnessing history in the making. It was a proud moment for Arizona conservation.
"The restoration of the wild turkey has succeeded beyond what anyone could have imagined," said James Kennamer, the NWTF's chief conservation officer. "The trap and transfer of the 200,000th wild turkey is a truly meaningful conservation milestone."
The 200,000th bird was one of 15 Gould's wild turkeys trapped in the Coronado National Forest near the Huachuca Mountains and then transferred to Gardner Canyon.
Brian Wakeling, the game chief for the Game and Fish Department, said Arizona was very proud to host this conservation milestone. “It’s really appropriate that a Gould’s turkey put this footprint on conservation history. Gould’s are the largest and the rarest of this nation’s wild turkey species.”
Wakeling explained that the recent capture and relocation are part of a continuing effort to expand the range of the Gould’s turkey in Arizona.
“Gould’s turkey have been an amazing comeback story in Arizona. It is truly a significant conservation model worth emulating,” Wakeling said, adding
Gould's turkey were once found throughout southern Arizona. Gould's were an important food source for those who settled and worked in the rugged lands of southern Arizona years ago.
Between the Civil War and World War I, miners working in southern Arizona harvested Gould's for many of their meals. By the time Arizona had legal hunting seasons in 1929, Gould's turkey had already disappeared from the scene. However, they have never been listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
The Gould’s reintroduction project began as a hands-across-the border effort with Mexico, where the first populations of Gould’s subspecies came from to restore Arizona’s historic populations during the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.
With the help of the National Wild Turkey Federation working in close harmony with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and a host of volunteers and cooperating landowners, today Gould’s populations can be found in six mountain ranges throughout southeastern Arizona: the Chiricahua, Pinaleno, Galiuro, Santa Rita, Catalina, and Huachuca Mountains.
In fact, the Gould’s turkey population in the Huachuca and Chiricahua Mountains has grown to the point where it is now used to sustain transplants to historical Gould’s habitats.
Nationally, wild turkeys were on the brink of extinction in the early 1900s. Thankfully, efforts by government agencies and the NWTF have enabled the wild turkey population to soar to more than 7 million today, making it the second-most popular game species in the U.S. with more than 2.5 million turkey hunters.