State plants game bird in Carson Valley

Seventeen cardboard boxes were lined up in the middle of a winter-dry field south of Gardnerville on Wednesday afternoon, then tipped over and emptied of their unusual contents.

From the boxes came six female and 11 male wild turkeys who, fear-stricken by the unfamiliar terrain, scattered in a blast of feathers and dust.

Some flew unwieldly to the tops of bare deciduous trees bordering the field, while others shot into thick willows clumped around a stream.

Eleven-year-old Joel Henry said he later saw one scampering across a higher meadow.

"It was neat seeing them all take off," he said.

Joel was one of more than 20 volunteers who assisted officials of the Nevada Department of Wildlife release the wild birds.

Nevada wildlife biologist Carl Lackey said the Rio Grande turkeys were caught by members of the National Wild Turkey Federation in a cemetery in the Sacramento valley, where the wild turkey population is increasing to the point of becoming a nuisance.

The turkeys were transferred to Nevada wildlife officials who are continuing efforts to establish healthy populations of the game bird in the Great Basin.

"This is the first time we'll have planted down in this end of the Valley," Lackey said. "The birds do very well in Nevada. This is ideal habitat. They need thick cover and trees for roosting. We'll continue planting the next two or three weeks until we have about 50. We hope the population persists."

The turkeys were released on private land, the location of which is being withheld to protect the nascent population.

"The Carson Valley Chukar Club purchased monitors for four of them so we can track their nesting and strutting in the future," Lackey said.

Placing the collar monitors on the four birds and tags on the feet of the rest proved to be quite a challenge that couldn't have thrilled 4-year-old Mathew Petersen more.

Dressed in a Cabela's camouflage suit and camo boots the curious child peeked into the boxes containing the birds before they were released. He giggled and paraded about when the turkeys were lifted from their boxes and tagged. Lackey and other officials had to grip the flailing creatures to their chests to properly tag their feet. Mathew got to pet one turkey on the head.

"It was scary," he said. "I thought it would bite my arm, but it didn't"

Most of the children at the event were members of the Jakes youth club, supervised by the Silver Sage Gobblers chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

"This is a great field trip to see the birds fly out," said parent Keith Henry. "The kids are learning something in the process."

Joel, who had followed the tagging of the turkeys with rapt fascination, said there was another reason he wanted to see the release.

"Someday, I will hunt them," he said.

A lot of the volunteers were hunters, law-abiding hunters whose license fees largely fund state conservation efforts. Among them was Johnson Lane resident Ritch Johnson.

"I'm an avid hunter," he said. "There are not a lot of wild turkeys in the state of Nevada, but we are trying to establish them here. They populate pretty quickly."

Kevin Servatius and Craig Burnside from the Douglas County Advisory Board to Manage Wildlife also attended the event.

"If the turkeys do well in this habitat, they might expand their population," said Burnside. "It's very suitable habitat."


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