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Home : News : News Features
NEWS | Feb. 8, 2016

New York National Guard works with state officials to monitor wild turkey populations at training site

By Sgt. Michael Davis New York National Guard

CORTLANDT MANOR, N.Y. - There's nothing new about setting up an ambush at Camp Smith Training Site, the New York National Guards training facility here. Troops have been conducting tactical training at this Hudson Valley location for more than 100 years.

But the ambush that was sprung on Jan. 28 netted turkeys, not National Guard trainees.

The New York Army National Guard, Camp Smith staff and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) coordinated for more than a month to capture, tag and release female wild turkeys (hens) on land at Camp Smith as part of a four-year study that will assess their survival and harvest rates across the state.

Camp Smith was a desirable location for the DEC given its large wild turkey population and previously unstudied location.

The New York National Guard has used Camp Smith - named for New York Governor Al Smith - as a training site since 1888. Its relatively undeveloped 1,500 acres are an oasis for wildlife in the increasingly suburban lower Hudson Valley area north of New York City.

Volunteering Camp Smith as a turkey tagging location is a way for the New York National Guard and the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs to serve as a good environmental steward, explained Mark Warnecke, the training site director.

Just like many other military operations, the turkey ambush was both covert and meticulous.

Kurt Konsberg, the Camp Smith environmental protection specialist, was selected to choose the best location for the ambush based on his experience with wild turkeys and familiarity with the site.

"We found out about the study the DEC was conducting and immediately volunteered the land at Camp Smith to help," Konsberg, said. "We selected the old skeet shooting range near Range One, since it was close to the forest line, provided enough space to deploy the net, and was close to the natural area where the hens live."

Wild turkeys, as opposed to domesticated turkeys, are known for being extremely smart and very cautious. This is why the team at Camp Smith and the DEC devised a month-long plan to ensure mission success.

Konsberg stealthily dropped cracked corn in one location every morning just before the turkeys came out to feed at daybreak, allowing the birds to build familiarity and trust with the area.

After four weeks of feeding, the four-person DEC team setup three cannons - each packed with an 80-grain gun powder cartridge capable of propelling large, cylindrical anchors approximately 25 meters in the air. These anchors are attached to a 40 by 60-foot net that deploys over the turkeys and is weighted down not only by the anchors but DEC members as well.

"Once we deploy the net, we all run and jump on the edges of the net so the turkeys don’t fly away. It’s a lot of fun!" explained Pat Vissering, a recently retired DEC fish and wildlife technician who came back to finish the last year of the study.

Due to some technical problems with one of the anchors, eight of the initially netted turkeys escaped. The remaining four were captured and banded with unique identification numbers.

Of that four, one was fitted with a $1,500 satellite transmitter, which will monitor its movements and survival.

"The GPS transmitters give us better, real time information about the hens' lives," explained Marc Sizer, a DEC fish and wildlife technician.

While the goal was to net between 10 and 20 turkeys; tagging four and successfully attaching the transmitter to one is still a major victory for Camp Smith, the DEC and the study.

"Because this is the only location in this area we’ve been able to study, and they hunt here, the hen we tagged today will be a benefit to the study," said Carl Lindsley, another recently retired fish and wildlife technician with the DEC who also came back to finish the last year of the study.

Wendy Roshenback, the media relations manager for the DEC, said that the agency has captured and banded almost 1,000 hens across upstate New York between 2013 and 2014 to estimate harvest and survival rates.

Camp Smith continues to serve as a steward of the environment by complying annually with the Department of Defense Integrated NaturalResources Management Plan (INRMP).

The INRMP is a U.S. Department of Defense initiative that provides a comprehensive approach to ecosystem management, but also takes into account military mission requirements, installation master planning, environmental planning and outdoor recreation.