Reintroductions have Gould's turkey comeback on course

Posted: Friday, April 30, 2004

TUCSON, Ariz. After nearly two decades of work, a native turkey appears to be taking hold in southern Arizona.

For the eighth time since 1983, Game and Fish Department specialists released a flock of rare Gould's turkeys into some of southeastern Arizona's mountain ranges.

It's part of an ongoing effort, involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Mexican biologists and local volunteers, to repopulate the so-called Sky Islands with turkeys that were once native to the area but have died out.

In at least some of the ranges, the efforts are paying off. In the Huachuca Mountains, near Sierra Vista, there probably are between 150 and 200 Gould's turkeys, reintroduced in 1983 and 1987.

''That population is doing real well right now,'' said Brian Wakeling, Game and Fish big game supervisor. ''In fact, we're offering some limited hunting opportunities.''

There are roughly 300 to 400 Gould's turkeys across Arizona now, he said.

''We're very pleased with our progress.''

Four hunters will be able to bag turkeys from the Huachuca Mountains in this spring's hunt.

Historically, the Gould's turkeys favored the region's oak grasslands, but ranchers, miners and others who settled the area between the Civil War and World War I essentially wiped out the Gould's population.

The turkeys, however, remained plentiful in the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua.

In March, 50 Gould's turkeys were captured in Yecora, Mexico, about 175 miles south of Douglas. They were flown to Douglas on a plane chartered by the National Wild Turkey Federation, which Wakeling credited as ''a tremendous asset' to the repopulation effort'

Seven birds died in captivity. Game and Fish biologists recently released 35 turkeys in the Mount Graham foothills of the Pinaleno Mountains.

Five females were set free in the Chiricahua Mountains, to augment the 39 turkeys released there last year, and three gobblers were placed in the Huachucas.

Five males captured in the Huachucas from earlier releases also were put into the Chiricahuas.

All three mountain ranges are among southern Arizona's Sky Islands mountains up to 10,000 feet high with diverse vegetation, habitat and wildlife at their upper elevations similar to that found in Canada.

Because the ranges are separated by large areas of unsuitable habitat, the turkeys rarely migrate between them, Wakeling said.

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