"We're losing land to development," he explained. "We'll probably never again have the turkey population we had in the 1990s because there simply aren't as many acres of forestland as there used to be."
The group also plans to look into its member states' bag limits and season starting dates to see if those are affecting turkey numbers.
"A lot of states fell into the trap of feeling that turkeys were doing great, and there was nothing we could do to hurt [populations], so they decided to hunt the snot out of them," Taylor said. "In South Carolina, for instance, the bag limit is five turkeys. We need to figure out if we're over-hunting our birds."
West Virginia often takes flak from hunters who believe wildlife officials start the spring season later than most southeastern states. Taylor said agency heads in those other states are beginning to wonder whether they're opening their seasons too soon.
"There's a draft resolution from the Southeastern Wild Turkey Working Group, and the gist of it is to look at opening days for spring turkey seasons," he said.
"Suffice it to say that a group of turkey biologists throughout the Southeast are looking at whether they are opening their seasons too early. The research [West Virginia] and Virginia did was definitive. If you open the season, the illegal loss of hens increases because they're not sitting on eggs. In Virginia, where the season opens sooner, the problem is worse."
Other potential areas of study are the effects of feeding corn to turkeys, and the effect coyotes might be having on turkey populations.
Taylor said the jury is still out on the corn question, but the coyote question has pretty much been answered.
"We want to know if corn is causing disease, if it's increasing predation, and if it's changing turkeys' feeding habits," he explained. "As for the coyotes, studies done in South Carolina and here in West Virginia show that coyotes seldom eat turkeys or turkey eggs. They wreak havoc on deer and fawns, but not turkeys."
Taylor said finding the answers to so many questions will take time.
"We don't have a definitive timeline to finish this study," he said. "The questions are difficult, and the answers won't be easy to find."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.