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READY, SET, RELEASE...

NEW HOME: One of the 37 Rio Grande turkeys released at the Elkhorn Wildlife Area Saturday takes flight. ().
NEW HOME: One of the 37 Rio Grande turkeys released at the Elkhorn Wildlife Area Saturday takes flight. ().

Dick Mason

Staff Writer

NORTH POWDER —

hey are no longer a novel or curious sight.

Still, wild Rio Grande turkeys in Northeast Oregon inspire looks of wonderment.

This was apparent Saturday at a release of 37 Rio Grandes in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Elkhorn Wildlife Area west of North Powder.

About 35 people, many with small children, showed up to watch and help with the release. About a half dozen cameras were recording images as the birds flew out from individual boxes.

It was a multigenerational event. Many of the people letting the turkeys go were children and teenagers, invited by the Union County chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

"It's good to get kids involved. Things like this help young people develop an understanding of what it means to be a good sportsman. It's a team effort,'' said La Grande's Jim Ward, member of the Union County chapter.

The turkeys flew north about 100 yards into a forest of ponderosa pines.

The release ended a hectic two- to three-day period for the turkeys, which had been trapped in Douglas County before being driven to Union County. Twenty-seven of the birds were trapped Feb. 16 east of Roseburg, and 10 were trapped Feb. 17 east of Sutherlin.

The birds were taken to the Elkhorn Wildlife Area because it has room for them and an abundance of public land where they can be hunted.

The turkeys were released in an area where there are other turkeys nearby. This will help the new birds adjust since they will be able to travel with the other turkeys and learn where the best places to go in the spring and summer are, said Eddie Miguez, manager of the wildlife area.

The turkeys were released near bales of oats and pea hay. The bales were purchased with money from the National Wild Turkey Federation's Big Sky program. The program is designed to help keep turkeys away from areas where they can be a nuisance.

The 37 Rio Grande turkeys released Saturday appear to be adapting well, said Miguez, noting that there were no deaths.

Saturday's transplant is among about eight being conducted in Union and Baker counties this winter. All the transplants were made possible by funding provided by the Union County chapter.

"I feel great every time I see a release," said Ron Gross of the Union County chapter. "I remember when the only place there were turkeys (in Union and Wallowa counties) was near Troy.''

These were turkeys from Merriam's transplants about 35 years ago. These transplants were not successful, but Rio Grande transplants that started in the 1980s have taken off. Today Rio Grandes can be found throughout Union and Wallowa counties.

Rio Grandes probably have been more successful because they are more determined nesters than Merriam's, said ODFW Biologist Leonard Erickson. If a Rio Grande hen has a nest that fails, it will nest again until it succeeds.

The Rio Grande's released Saturday are among 550 that have been trapped in Douglas County this winter and released in different areas.

JUST THE FACTS

TRANSPLANTS GALORE:

There have been more than 590 Rio Grande turkey releases in Oregon since 1975. More than 9,600 turkeys have been released during this time.

POPULAR TARGET: More than 14,000 hunters pursue turkeys in Oregon each year.

NUISANCE:

From Jan. 1, 2002, to Dec. 31, 2003, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife received 284 turkey damage complaints in Oregon. The complaints were for a combined damage total of $25,792.

Source: 2004 ODFW Wildlife Management Plan.

Fall turkey hunting may unfold in Union County

Union County hunters may soon be talking turkey each fall.

An autumn wild turkey season may be added in Union County within a few years, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Leonard Erickson.

Currently the only part of Northeast Oregon that has a fall turkey hunting season is Baker County's Pine Creek Unit. Only a portion of the unit is open to fall turkey hunting. These are areas where turkeys are a nuisance, said Eddie Miguez, manager of the Elkhorn Wildlife Area.

Hunters can take turkeys of either sex in the fall seasons. In the spring, though, they can only take toms because hens are nesting. The spring season runs from April 15 to May 31.

Should a fall season be added in Union County it would be for the north end of the county because it has the highest population level, Erickson said. This is where the first Rio Grande transplants in Union County were made starting in the 1980s.

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