TULALIP — A year from now, members of the Tulalip Tribes could be hunting wild turkeys on tribal land.
Turkeys aren’t native to northwest Washington, but tribal officials believe the birds will establish themselves and provide a harvestable population for tribal members.
In August, the Tulalip fish and wildlife department released about 170 wild turkeys into a meadow carved out of the 8,000 acres of woods on tribal land.
Turkey chicks were delivered by a hatchery in May and then placed in brooding pens. During the summer, they were moved to a net- covered enclosure in the meadow so the birds could get used to eating the meadow grass.
When the nets were removed, the turkeys needed some encouragement to flee the coop, said Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer Kari Neumeyer, who watched the turkey release. After being ushered out by Tulalip wildlife technicians, the birds started exploring the grasses surrounding the enclosure, she said.
Ray Fryberg Sr., fish and wildlife director for the Tulalip Tribes, said he hopes the turkeys will breed successfully and provide food for the tribal community.
“Having wild turkeys right here on the reservation also could engage tribal youth who haven’t been exposed to our hunting culture,” Fryberg said.
The tribe plans to release more game birds in the meadow in the future. Tulalip wildlife manager Mike Sevigny hopes one day that the Tulalip meadows will be home to quail, grouse and pheasant.
The forest on the Tulalip reservation is dense with 30-year-old Douglas fir trees.
Herbicides previously sprayed on former clear-cut areas kept natural vegetation from returning. After a few decades, the trees created a canopy, blocking out sunlight to plants on the forest floor. In some areas on the reservation, only hardy blackberry vines and other invasive, non-native plants took hold.
That decline of wildlife forage areas forced deer to look elsewhere for food, Sevigny said.
A few years ago, the tribes’ natural resources department started taking down some of the forest to plant meadows on the reservation. The grasslands provide a haven for wildlife.
There are more than 12 acres of meadowlands on the reservation. The grass and clover in the meadows provide forage food for a growing population of deer.
Skinny animals are no longer seen. The does are healthier and they have healthier young, Sevigny has said. And this means a healthier population for the tribes to hunt.
Along with the deer, many smaller animals have been seen in the meadows. And now there are wild turkeys, too.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.