Florida turkey hunters are wondering what to expect in the wake of the four hurricanes that flooded forests and flattened timber in the heart of the state’s best turkey country last year. Together, Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne caused habitat damage that has the experts talking.
“You don’t get a lot of direct mortality from hurricanes,” says Larry Perrin, a biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “But you can see a lot of localized problems, with reduced nesting opportunities from all that downed timber.” A hurricane can turn a forest and grassland habitat-ideal for nesting birds and poults-into a tangled mess of downed timber, weeds, and brush. “The birds can’t move through it easily, and they can’t see above it, so predation goes way up,” Perrin explains. In the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, about one-half of the turkey habitat was destroyed and the turkey population was decimated in South Carolina’s Francis Marion National Forest.
But the outlook for Florida in 2005 is not as bleak. Perrin and other biologists say that turkeys seem to have weathered these storms-but it will take time to know for sure. The statewide harvest estimate for spring 2003 (the most recent number available) is 15,509.
“If we see a substantial drop in spring 2005, then again in spring 2006,” Perrin says, “we’ll start to be concerned that the hurricanes did have an impact on turkey populations.”