CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Turkey hunters are curious about a lot of things, but they're particularly curious about the number of turkeys hatched two years before the spring season.
That number, which wildlife officials call the "brood index," gives hunters an idea how many 2-year-old gobblers will be strutting their stuff when springtime rolls around. For the past couple of years, though, a change in the way West Virginia Division of Natural Resources employees report brood sightings has made the index less reliable, at least temporarily.
Before 2009, DNR officials accepted reports of turkey sightings from several sources: wildlife employees, law enforcement employees, forestry employees and the general public.
In some years, the agency received lots of reports; in other years, not so many. Biologists ultimately realized that the old reporting method resulted in inconsistent data.
"We decided to standardize who would be [brood] observers, and when those observers actually observed," said Chris Ryan, the DNR's supervisor of game management services. "We wanted to make the process as scientific as possible."
The first change, which went into effect in 2010, was to cease taking reports from the public. The second, instituted in 2011, mandated that DNR Wildlife Resources personnel be the only recognized observers. The third, for 2012, restricted observations only to DNR employees' on-the-clock hours.
Paul Johansen, the agency's assistant wildlife chief, said the changes were made "to standardize the reporting system."
"We want to have a core group [of employees] responsible for reporting brood sightings," he added. "We want the index to be more consistent from one year to the next."
Johansen and Ryan acknowledged that the numbers from 2010 and 2011 weren't consistent because the reporters were different. The 2011 and 2012 figures were more consistent, but not perfectly so.