The AGFC found good news for turkeys and hunters alike at its monthly meeting held at the J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center, pertaining to the growth of the wild turkey population and the AGFC’s Private Lands Program.
The 2022 Wild Turkey Population Survey has so far been showing some of the best growth in a decade in some parts of the state, with an average rate of 1.79 “poults per hen” throughout spring and summer (poults being young turkey). According to Turkey Program Coordinator Jeremy Wood, biologists usually want to see rates in the ballpark of 1.8 to 2 poults per hen, and rates across Arkansas were consistently positive, ranging from 2.21 in the Delta to 1.46 in the Ouachita Mountains. This year’s “gobbler to hen” ratio decreased, but that is common in years of significant growth.
“We also continue to see increased participation throughout the state in the survey,” Wood said. “Five years ago, about 50% of our turkey survey participants were in seven counties, but we’re seeing more widespread reports thanks to increased efforts to recruit observers. We are seeing some decreased participation per observer, and we want to figure out a way to get more observations from each participant, but we are getting increased awareness overall.”
Wood credited good weather conditions during the turkeys’ nesting and brood-rearing seasons as the main reason for this strong growth. Human-controlled factors have played less of a role, but he hopes to improve upon and fine tune the tools they do have. The most important of these is season structure, as a shorter and later hunting season gives turkeys more time to take advantage of natural factors like good weather.
Turkeys aside, AGFC Director Austin Booth placed a strong emphasis at the meeting on the Commission’s Private Lands Program, which will be playing a major role in its future conservation efforts. As part of the Commission’s strategic plan, The Natural State Tomorrow, the Private Lands Program will be turned into a major division of the agency, which Booth announced would be led by longtime wildlife biologist and AGFC assistant chief Garrick Dugger.
“We all know that success in conservation ultimately depends not just on the landscape, but more importantly on how much people treasure the landscape … ” Booth said. “… If we achieve absolute perfection on the 10% of land the AGFC controls in Arkansas, we only have 10% success. The only way to increase that is to take our amazing private lands effort that we have now and to elevate it. The Private Lands Division will be absolutely critical in delivering to the private landowners of Arkansas the assistance, the education and the incentives to help carry on the flame of conservation.”
Dugger has worked with the agency for 23 years, and has already been authorized to enter into a real estate conveyance agreement with the city of Benton to open a section of property, the Cherry Gingles Duluth Saline River Access, to the public. This property was donated to the commission by the Demuth family and the Hastings family, and plans are being made to build campsites, RV parking, yurts and more.
A full video of the meeting is available on the AGFC’s YouTube.