A Commentary on Potential Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Wild Turkey Populations

The global, societal, and economical impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, though fluid and ever-changing, are well-documented in the daily flurry of news reports. However, we are just beginning to understand the impacts, both long and short-term, on the natural world. Most highly-publicized reports of the environmental impacts of this pandemic are of a positive nature; less pollution and less negative human influence in general. However, the effects of this pandemic on the sporting world are a very different story. Anglers and hunters all over the country are home on quarantine, and many are taking advantage of their new-found free time by enjoying time in the outdoors. While this is ultimately a positive for sportsmen and women, it’s effects on various quarries and species may be having a negative impact. Case in point: the wild turkey. 

The following document, prepared by University of Georgia’s Michael J. Chamberlain, Ph.D. , and Louisiana State University’s Bret A. Collier, Ph.D. , provides us with the first glimpse into what ways COVID-19 may have an effect on wild turkey populations.


Date composed: April 13, 2020

A Commentary on Potential Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Wild Turkey Populations Date composed: April 13, 2020 During early 2020, countries across the globe were impacted by a rapidly spreading virus (COVID-19) that has impacted nearly every facet of daily life. As COVID-19 is spread via contact between infected individuals, social distancing has been widely implemented worldwide in attempts to dampen effects of the pandemic. This social distancing places restrictions on both human movement and person to person interactions, and is designed to reduce transmission of the virus. Although reducing spread of the virus and the ongoing loss of human life are of paramount concern, social distancing and the sudden changes to how people interact and behave have potential implications to many parts of our economy, mental and physical health, and societal activities enjoyed by millions worldwide.

Across the United States, many forms of recreational activity occur during spring, including notable increases in recreational fishing and hunting. Within many states, sportspersons are being allowed, and in some cases encouraged, to spend time outdoors enjoying these recreational activities, which allow these sportspersons to practice social distancing while also participating in recreational activities they enjoy and cherish. Specific to hunting, the pursuit of the wild turkey is a socially and economically important activity that is enjoyed by millions of hunters annually, including ourselves. Wild turkeys are the only gamebird in the conterminous United States hunted primarily during their breeding season, which occurs during spring. At the writing of this commentary, we note that nationwide, hunting seasons for wild turkeys have been ongoing in many states, and are beginning in many others. With millions of Americans ordered to practice social distancing and refrain from their regular daily social activities, substantive potential exists that hunters pursuing wild turkeys could increase the amount of time they spend hunting (hereafter hunter effort). As such, we believe there may be potentially significant implications to wild turkey populations because of changes in hunting activity during spring 2020. Our concerns are predicated on well-documented, long-term declines in abundance and productivity of Eastern wild turkey populations throughout broad portions of the subspecies range, declines which we note have been ongoing for years and are of significant concern to many state wildlife agencies…

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