Monday, October 23, 2023

State Senate committee studies solutions to reverse state's turkey population decline

Senate committee looks for ways to increase state’s turkey population

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate Tourism and Wildlife Committee heard from wildlife experts Monday about why Oklahoma has seen a significant decline it its turkey population. Sen. Blake “Cowboy” Stephens, R-Tahlequah, requested the study to find possible legislative solutions to increase their numbers.

“As someone who grew up hunting in rural Oklahoma, I’m extremely concerned and saddened by the disturbing drop we’ve seen in our state’s turkey population in recent years,” Stephens said. “We have a legislative and moral responsibility to protect not only our state lands, but the species that inhabit them, including the wild turkey.  I appreciate the recommendations we received from our state’s wildlife experts and am looking forward to working with my colleagues to help better protect the majestic thunder chicken as it is fondly referred to.”

According to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC), this is not the first time the wild turkey population has dropped since they were first documented in the state in 1832. The ODCW closed their hunting season in 1916 and it was thought they were extinct in 1925. From 1948 to 1996, the agency embarked on a successful restoration project. Today, there are three subspecies throughout the state and hunting is allowed in all 77 counties.

The agency conducts multiple surveys throughout the year to track the populations, which have shown steady decline in the last decade in the state’s four major regions. The southwest region has seen the greatest loss during that time at over 18,000, with the most significant drop in harvested birds between 2020 and 2021 when the state actually saw a major spike in the number of hunting licenses, pointing to a severe problem with the turkey population. The northwest region has seen a loss of over 14,000 birds with a slight rebound in the last year. The central and northeast regions have both seen continuous decreases in populations.

While there are a number of factors that contribute to the turkey population decline, USDA Wildlife Services pointed to nest predation by mesocarnivores, such as raccoons, skunks, crows, and feral swine as the top cause.

Recommendations to increase the turkey population, included maintaining and supporting Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) and providing technical assistance to landowners to protect the turkey habitat. Other recommendations included better managing predator populations, especially during nesting season, which would involve raising awareness and providing more training to private land owners, counties, hunting clubs and others about the most successful techniques to decrease predator populations. Experts also noted that the state needs better information on turkey demographics and population genetics to effectively manage their populations.

A list of speakers and their presentations is available at


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