Natural resources require balance, action

Published 1:45 pm Thursday, April 20, 2023

Wildlife and fisheries are a precious natural resource to our state and to Lincoln County. Hunting and fishing are important to our culture and way of life. Conservation efforts in the 1950s helped bring our deer and turkey populations to the thriving levels they are now. A renewed effort is needed now. 

Hunters have become more passionate about conservation and our populations in recent years. It is evident this year could be the first time the MDWFP makes a significant change to the turkey season in over a decade, largely thanks to public concern. 

Did you know around 60,000 hunters take to the woods each spring. There is a lot of pressure on the birds in our state and when you pair the decline of habitat quantity and quality and the natural fluctuation of bird populations you could start to jump to solutions too quickly. 

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Mississippi’s proposed rules for the turkey season are pretty conservative compared to neighboring states. We would likely lose the fall season, shorten the spring season by a week and require mandatory tagging of turkeys as the MDWFP addresses a slight “decline” in turkeys from its historical highs after restocking. 

The next 30 days could be critical in shaping what happens next. I encourage hunters to educate themselves on what is being discussed, the research behind our state’s proposals and what could be done on the landowners end. 

MDWFP is charged with a delicate balancing act of protecting first and foremost the natural resources of our state while also providing a quality experience for the public. Personally, I’m not sure where I stand in regards to the changing of season. 

I love nothing more than the opportunity to be out in the woods hunting something. Most days, I don’t ever get a chance to harvest anything but I still go every chance I can while I’m still young and able. Eliminating the fall season would impact some people and I think they should be able to choose if they want to hunt turkeys in the fall. The option should be there when and where it is legal but certainly the MDWFP needs to restrict harvests to gobblers. 

Shortening of the spring season is something I understand. Every year, I freeze to death at some point in the seven days after March 15 waiting on the sun to come up. Gobbling activity can be spotty at best and thus can be discouraging for inexperienced hunters like myself. 

At the same time, I would like to keep the dates as they are because it allows the most opportunity for me to be out in the woods hunting something. There is also the question about population decline. 

I’m not sure what the exact cause of the “decline” is. Populations have natural fluctuations over a series of years due to the weather and other factors. Turkeys and other ground nesting birds have shown they are more sensitive to the environment than other game species. 

Mississippi has only grown in population of 400,000 people since 1980 so I doubt the “urbanization” of the state has had any real impact on our bird numbers. Ron Seiss, who is retired from the MDWFP, pointed out there have been considerable land use changes since our state was founded including pine plantations, loss of patureland and lack of burning. 

Part of the balancing act of protecting natural resources while giving every opportunity possible to hunters is putting in the work needed to sustain it. Pine plantations are too important to our state economy to eliminate them but I think a part of our challenges with wildlife numbers stems from the hardwoods we have lost. 

Our habitat is not as diverse as it could be. If you drive around Lincoln County you will likely see two types of habitat. Pine stands and cow pastures. Neither are conducive to quail or turkey populations who rely on early successional plant communities at the start of their life. 

Mississippi State University and Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks have multiple brochures and manuals showing how land owners can provide the nesting habitat needed for turkeys and quail populations while still producing cattle and timber. Deer also benefit from these early successional stages of growth. 

My family’s land has an old cow pasture which has grown up over the last few years. It has provided homes for songbirds, deer and turkeys. I have seen more deer and turkeys this past year than I ever had before. Last week, I saw a quail for the first time in the wild. 

Habitat management is not easy, it takes time and sweat for people who don’t have a tractor. Hand tools such as axes, hatchets, machetes and kaiser blades occupy my time in the summer months. This week, I walked through that field making note of where my oak saplings are and which areas need disturbance to encourage new growth and provide for our wildlife. 

I’m not waiting for the end of turkey season and have already cut sweetgums shading out forbs in an area by one of my tree-stands. Habitat management does require patience because it could take a little while to see the fruits of your labor but all we can do is try. 

Educate yourself on the latest research and what our department is doing or talking about. Read what the commission is doing and what our wildlife bureau is working on. An informed community of outdoorsmen working to improve wildlife habitat could shape the future.