Wild Turkey Reintroduction

On March 11, 2004, funds were awarded from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Tribal Wildlife Grants Program (TWGP) for the project, "Proposal to Release, Monitor, and Manage a Viable Population of Merriam's Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) on the Pueblo of Santa Ana, Sandoval County, New Mexico". These funds allow the Pueblo of Santa Ana (Pueblo) to reintroduce, monitor, and manage the wild turkey, which has significant cultural and spiritual value to the people of Santa Ana, but has been absent for over forty years. After all grant agreement formalities were completed, the Pueblo immediately began implementing the project by trapping on the Mescalero Apache Tribe in southeastern New Mexico in mid-March 2004. The trapping effort was cooperatively accomplished by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMGF), Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Pueblo. Since trapping occurred late in the trapping season, only six turkeys were captured. However, on a calm early spring afternoon, the turkeys were released onto the Pueblo before an enthusiastic audience consisting of community members, Pueblo employees, and Service representatives. Following their release, all six birds roosted within cottonwoods along the Rio Grande and they began exploring their new home the following day.

To supplement the initial release of wild turkeys on the Pueblo, the Pueblo initiated a trapping effort on a private ranch in northeastern New Mexico in February 2005. The trapping event was a cooperative effort between the Spahn and Friends Bison Ranch, New Mexico State Parks, NMGF, Bureau of Indian Affairs Southern Pueblo's Agency, and the Pueblo. The effort was a success that resulted in the capture of 30 wild turkey (23 hens and 7 toms), which were all released onto the Pueblo before a large crowd of on-lookers. Four of these turkeys were fitted with backpack VHF transmitters and two were fitted with GPS receivers.

In winter 2005 & 2006, the Pueblo will attempt (if weather conditions permit) to capture and release an additional 30 turkeys each from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and from the State of New Mexico. Like with the turkeys released this past winter, the Pueblo will outfit at least five turkeys with tracking devices to allow for the Pueblo to monitor wild turkey locations and obtain detailed information regarding turkey displacement. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyses of location data will allow the Pueblo to identify preferred habitat, nesting locations, and causes of mortality. This information will contribute greatly to the Pueblo's ability to appropriately manage the newly established turkey population.

Although available habitats along the Rio Grande provide excellent forage resources for wild turkey, in spring 2005, the Pueblo will begin strategic plantings of silver buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea), three-leaf sumac (Rhus trilobata), Arizona grape (Vitis arizonica), golden currant (Ribes aureum), wild rose (Rosa woodsii), and wild plum (Prunus sp.) to supplement available forage and insure the success of establishing a self-sustaining wild turkey population. In addition, community members have expressed a genuine interest in supplementing available wild turkey forage by planting small sections of their irrigated croplands specifically for wild turkeys.

With the breeding season rapidly approaching, the success of this TWGP project depends largely on a successful year of poult (turkey chicks) recruitment. The turkeys are beginning to show signs of breeding behavior and have established nests. If all goes well, we will be monitoring poult activity in the near future.

For photos, see the Rangeland & Wildlife media gallery.