Cross Creek County Park could be, in some ways, a more attractive place for wild turkeys according to a proposal approved Thursday by the Washington County commissioners, but turkeys may roost at their peril because an organization involved in the effort makes no bones about the fact it promotes conservation and hunting.
At the request of the parks department, the commissioners unanimously agreed to cooperate with both Range Resources and the National Wild Turkey Federation for the development of at least one habitat project and one educational outreach project in the park.
Lisa Cessna, director of the Washington County Planning Commission, said Wednesday after an agenda-setting session, “They’ve gone and looked at some areas, two or three throughout the park. It doesn’t cost the county anything. I don’t know when they’ll do plantings or schedule programs but it will be in 2014.” The “educational outreach” could also include placards featuring information on wild turkeys.
The first Range wells in Cross Creek County Park began producing natural gas in 2007, and the county has reaped millions of dollars in income from both leases and royalties.
According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, the bird was on the verge of extinction in the early 1930s with a population of only about 30,000 in the United States. The organization estimates there are more than 7 million today. The species prefers open areas for feeding, mating and habitat. They use forested areas as cover from predators and for roosting at night. Newly-hatched birds must be ready to leave the nest to feed within 12 to 24 hours. Young turkeys, known as poults, eat insects, berries and seeds while adults will also feed on acorns and small reptiles.
The 2,830-acre park Cross Creek County Park is open to all hunting in season, and the National Wild Turkey Federation website asks the question, “Why does a conservation organization put just as much emphasis on our hunting heritage?”
The answer the organization gives is, “Without hunters spending hard-earned cash on guns with ammunition, bows and arrows and hunting licenses, there would be no money to hire the wildlife biologists, conservation officers and foresters necessary to complete the restoration of so many wildlife species.”
Although he described himself as a frequent Cross Creek park user, Washington County Commission Chairman Larry Maggi said, “I have not hunted turkey for a lot of years. We used to have to go to the mountains to find any wild turkey.”
He has seen wild turkeys at the park, but estimates there are fewer than in some recent years. There is speculation that coyotes are eating the poults.
“No agreement has been finalized as of yet, but we are currently working with the National Wild Turkey Federation and Washington County to select an area within Cross Creek park to assess and improve habitat for a number of species native to Washington County,” wrote Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella in response to an email inquiry.
“The effort will include collaboration with a number of conservation groups and volunteer time from Range employees and contractors to provide public, aesthetic and ecological benefits at Cross Creek, beyond the habitat work we have already provided on our own and the enormous economic benefits generated for all taxpayers of the park. We have had a long-standing relationship with the National Wild Turkey Federation over the years, dating back to meetings we would regularly hold with conservation, sportsman and environmental organizations. Range will also provide a financial grant to help to support the program. There are still a lot of details to hash out, like what specifically the program will include, where in the park and what other groups and organizations may join us.”
Unlike Cross Creek, hunters face more restrictions at the 2,600-acre Mingo Creek County Park in Nottingham Township. Off and on since December 1995, the county has conducted a special late-season archery and muzzleloader deer hunting season. In addition to the hunting licenses sold by county treasurers, participants must have a special permit to hunt in the park on a particular day.
This year’s special deer hunting season, the first scheduled since 2011-12, will end Saturday.