Southern Tier’s Wild Turkey Conservation Efforts Threatened Despite Decrease in NY Hunting Licenses

New York State families who enjoy having wild turkey as their Thanksgiving Day bird may not be able to gobble one up if the population continues to decline.

The Southern Tier’s wild turkey population is in decline despite continued conservation efforts.

The drop has been linked to a gradual decrease in habitat, an increase in natural predators, severe winters, and wet springs and summers — all of which can impact breeding and the survival of young turkeys. In addition, a virus found nearly five years ago causing tumors in wild turkeys may also be contributing to the population loss. While the virus is less deadly than first thought, researchers have discovered that it is widespread.

During the 1800s, New York State’s wild turkey population was completely eradicated due to over-hunting and forest clearing, however, wild turkeys were reintroduced in 1948 after a small, remnant population was discovered in Pennsylvania.

As abandoned farmland land slowly reverted to forest, New York’s wild turkey population flourished, reaching a high of an estimated 300,000 birds in 2001. The wild turkey population also boomed at the same time rabies significantly reduced the number of raccoons and other nest predators.

“There has been a gradual decline over the past decade, to about 180,000 statewide today,” said Mike Schiavone, a wildlife biologist who heads wild turkey research for the Department of Environmental Conservation. The wild turkey population is said to be at a 15-year low in New York.

This comes at a time when the state is also experiencing a decrease in hunting licenses. According to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the number of hunting licenses has fallen 15% since 2002. The US Fish and Wildlife service reports a 19% decrease.

“You have a much more urban population than say 50 years ago so people that grow up in the city tend to play video games and don’t come out to hunt and fish,” said David Simmons, President of the Onondaga County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.

Simmons says continued urbanization and a decline in game such as wild turkey have also contributed to the drop in licenses.

Despite a decrease in hunting licenses, statistics reveal hunting is safer than ever in New York state, reporting less injuries from bows and firearms. Statewide, the drop in hunting-related accidents was dramatic, falling from 137 per year during the 1960s to just 22 last year. This includes injuries caused by rifles, shotguns, pellet guns, and bows.

In New York State as well as the rest of the U.S., hunters often wear camouflage clothing to disguise themselves from game while hunting. However, it’s common for hunters to also where reflective material, to alert other hunters of their presence.