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Turkey Management in Pine Plantations
Turkey Management in Pine PlantationsBy John S. Powers, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
The Eastern wild turkey is a popular game species in
Wild turkeys in
Trends in forest management leading to the conversion of large tracts of land to commercial pine production have reduced habitat suitability for wild turkeys in many areas. Managing large contiguous blocks of land on short rotations for pine pulp production does not lend itself well to providing the habitat characteristics necessary for wild turkey survival and reproduction.
Critical habitat requirements for eastern wild turkeys are several.
About 10 percent of acreage should be maintained in some type of open habitat type. While turkeys will use openings of any size, they tend to prefer openings of 5-20 acres. Old fields, logging ramps and roads, and electrical/gas line right-of-ways offer potential for developing openings at relatively low cost. Suitable cover may be developed and maintained through periodic mowing, disking, or burning, and may be improved through supplemental plantings of suitable grasses, grains, forbs, clovers, and other legumes. Mowing, disking, and burning should not be carried out between March 15 and July 1 to avoid disturbance or destruction of nests.
In areas with little existing hardwood timber, clearcuts should never be more than 200 acres in size and, where possible, should be less than 100 acres and of irregular shape. For turkeys, the longer the rotation length the better, with stands generally improving in habitat suitability after 30 years in age. Where possible, scattered mast producers should be retained during the harvesting process. Thinning should begin in the sapling stage and continue at 5-10 year intervals until the stand is 30-40 years old. This practice will allow a variety of hard and soft mast producers to become established in both the overstory and the midstory and, when combined with prescribed burning on a 3-5 year rotation, will result in a relatively open stand suitable for use by turkeys. Longer rotations will also provide the mature timber required for roosting sites. Care should be taken that at least 50 percent of the timber is pole size or larger, and these stands should not be isolated from each other by large tract of small pines.
Supplemental planting of a variety of hard and soft mast-producing species may be used to improve production until conditions within stands improves. Good species to plant include oaks, hickories, wild plums, wild cherries, autumn olive, and persimmon. Perhaps the best “quick fix” available for areas lacking existing mast producers is the chufa. The small tubers produced by this nutgrass are both a high quality food and are readily used by wild turkeys. Chufas may be planted in plots as small as one tenth of an acre. In general, however, larger plots (up to two acres) tend to produce better and are less subject to losses prior to germination from feeding turkeys, raccoons, deer and feral hogs.
So, are pine plantations good for turkeys? They can be when managed correctly. The landowner that makes wise management decisions can have good turkey populations.
For more information, please contact the Wildlife Section at 334-242-3469.