Thursday, May 10, 2018

Echoes of 2016's massive cicada "brood" emergence saving Ohio's 2018 spring turkey season

In spite of an up-and-down weather pattern that has played havoc on various outdoors pursuits, that condition has not stopped Ohio’s turkey hunting community from taking one-thousand-plus more birds when laid next to the comparable 2017 to-date figure.

However, the plus-positive turkey kill numbers are largely being attributed to the heavy emergence of cicadas in southeast Ohio two years ago. These protein-rich invertebrates led to highly successful turkey poult production and survival rates, conditions which Ohio Division of Wildlife scientists say is lingering into 2018 as these once-juvenile birds are now two-year old mature toms.

As of May 10th, Ohio has seen the taking of 16,060 bearded wild turkeys. That figure is 1,046 more birds than were harvested for the same time frame in 2017, or 15,014 birds. Both sets of numbers do include the to-date numbers for the five-county Northeast Ohio Turkey Hunting Zone.

The pattern that seems to be emerging this spring is turkey harvest totals in most counties across much of the state are below totals at the same point in 2017,” said Mark Wiley, the Wildlife Division’s biologist in charge of the state’s wild turkey management project

In biologist-speak, the reproductive index (poults-to-hen ratio) in these areas was only average or even below average in both 2016 and 2017, Wiley said.

However, counties in east-central and southeast Ohio are an exception, as harvest in this region is up 20 to 30 percent,” Wiley said. “The reproductive index in this area was high in 2016 during the periodical cicada emergence, and hunters are likely encountering many of those two-year-old birds this spring.”

In short, a ‘bump’ in related turkey production and survival, occurred, resulting in southeast Ohio being this spring turkey-hunting season’s “hot spot,” Wiley said.

To help illustrate this anomaly, here are the 2018 to-date figures for several selected southeast Ohio counties with their corresponding and respective 2017 to-date figures in parentheses: Athens County – 445 (317); Coschocton County – 585 (492); Guernsey County – 617 (423); Harrison County – 499 (409); Muskingum County – 545 (444); and Tuscarawas County – 582 (503).

Conversely, much of the rest of the state is in a turkey harvest slump, with the Wildlife Division’s figures to-date figures pointing to the skid marks. To illustrate, here are the 2018 to-date figures for several selected Ohio counties – excluding those in southeast Ohio – with their corresponding and respective 2017 to-date figures in parentheses: Adams County – 265 (380); Ashtabula County – 280 (323); Brown County – 272 (304); Defiance County – 145 (189); Highland County – 262 (322); and Williams County – 141 (195).

In all, about one-half of Ohio’s 88 counties are showing respective to-date turkey kill declines with four counties noting identical to-date 2018 and 2017 numbers. The rest of the counties have recorded to-date increases.

Yet Wiley acknowledged that in essence all good things must come to an end. In that regard beginning with the spring 2019 spring season the turkey kill in the gold-standard southeast Ohio counties will likely mean that “we’ll see more normal harvests” there, Wiley said.

That being said, Wiley noted that another hatch of cyclic 17-year cicada hatches – called “broods” - is expect in 2019 for a sliver of extreme eastern Ashtabula County, much of Trumbull County, and a portion of Columbiana County.

And a similar heavy brood emergence is expected in 2021 for a large chunk of central Ohio, though this appearance may be mitigated by the region’s heavy agricultural practices that likely will limit the turkey kill. Turkey populations there are not as high as they are elsewhere in the state Wiley explained.

The next significant cicada brood emergence over a wide area of prime turkey habitat is projected to appear in 2025 in southwest Ohio, Wiley said.

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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