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A Good Year For Missouri Wildlife

2012 was a rough year for Missouri farmers battling severe drought and extreme heat, but some species of wildlife did well – specifically, turkeys, bobwhite quail and honeybees. 

Wild turkeys are ground-nesting birds, which thrive better during dry years.  Jason Isabelle is a resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.  He says the drought and hot weather from the past two summers have sparked a sharp rise in the state’s turkey population.

“This year’s hatch was actually 42 percent above the previous 5-year average and 21 percent above the previous 10-year average, and it was identical to last year,” says Isabelle.

Isabelle says, though, that last year’s improved turkey hatch varied by region, while this year it was more evenly distributed throughout Missouri.

“Actually, our highest production during 2012 was down in the eastern part of the Ozarks, but other than down in extreme southeastern Missouri, we tended to see a pretty uniform patch throughout much of the state,” says Isabelle.

And Isabelle says this year’s abundant hatches have translated to a good year for turkey hunters in Missouri:

“Our fall turkey firearm harvest this year was up 20 percent from what it was last year, and permit sales were up 9 percent…that’s certainly good news for anybody looking ahead to the spring season as well – there should be a larger group of 2-year-old adult gobblers out there than we’ve had in quite a few years,” says Isabelle.

Another ground-nesting bird in Missouri benefited from the drought.  The bobwhite quail’s numbers took a big hit when record rainfall drenched the state in 2008, but they’ve improved since.  Max Alleger is the Department of Conservation’s Grassland Bird Coordinator.  He says heavy rainfall at the wrong time of year can be detrimental to population numbers:

“In one respect, the dry conditions that we had going back into the winter of 2011 and through the growing season of 2012 made nesting more successful in some parts of the state,” Alleger

But while the hot, dry weather made for ideal nesting conditions, Alleger says it also limited the bobwhite quail’s food supply.

“The dry conditions probably led to fewer insects being produced, and probably led to (the) production of fewer seeds and grains which are needed by quail as a food source this time of year, so it was a mixed bag,” says Alleger.

2012 was a good year for Missouri’s honeybees, although in their case they did well in spite of the drought.  John Timmons heads the Missouri State Beekeepers Association.  He says the early spring played a role in increased honey production this year:

“And then (there was) a good pattern, and a good balance, of dry periods and wet periods…the floral sources had a lot of opportunity to produce lots of nectar, and as a result the bees make lots of honey,” says Timmons

Timmons says the drought resulted in bees’ floral sources shutting down, but in the end, it didn’t matter because most of the honey produced in Missouri this year had already been produced.

“They picked back up again in most areas of Missouri.  We got some rain, the floral sources began to blossom, we had plenty of nectar, and as a result the bees started producing lots of honey,” says Alleger.

That in turn led to a good fall harvest of honey, which Timmons says has its own distinct flavor due to different floral sources. 

Marshall Griffin is the Statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.
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