Idaho's Wild Turkey Population Thriving
HELLS CANYON, Idaho Wild turkeys have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: There are more of them around than ever before. Eighty years ago, wild turkeys were losing ground to habitat loss and hunting, and only about 30,000 remained.
Now there are about 7 million of the birds in the United States, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation.
In a sheltered state-owned area near the bottom of Hells Canyon in western Idaho, as many as 300 of the large birds take up residence every winter. A mild climate with little snow, a large no-hunting zone, and a field of grain planted for wildlife make the area a comfortable wintering spot.
Anna Owsiak, the area's wildlife manager, said the turkeys roost at night in the trees outside her house. Every day, they walk and fly through the hilly fields and a horse pasture behind, making a large circuit in their search for berries and bugs. They return to the yard at night.
"It's kind of fun to watch them come out of the trees in the morning," she said.
Owsiak likes the turkeys, even though they dig craters in her lawn for dust baths and raid her garden.
Like other northwestern states, Idaho doesn't have any native turkeys. It started importing the game birds in the 1960s after hunters showed interest in them.
After three decades of importing the birds, and then moving flocks around from one place to another, Idaho Fish and Game biologists say the transplants have taken a firm hold. Idaho has about 30,000 wild turkeys now.
"This is a total success story," said Fish and Game spokesman Ed Mitchell. "We've got them where we wanted them."
The story is the same around most of the country, said John Thiebes, a Medford, Ore.-based biologist for the turkey foundation. The introduction of rocket-fired nets in the 1960s enabled wildlife managers to trap and move the birds and start building up populations again.
"Turkeys are in pretty much all of the available habitat around the country," Thiebes said. "Virtually in all states, we're trying to concentrate our efforts on wildlife habitat improvement projects rather than trapping and transplanting."
There are wild turkeys in every state but Alaska, Thiebes said. They're big business -- states sell thousands of turkey-hunting licenses. They also spend thousands of dollars transplanting the birds and maintaining habitat for them, so it's not clear if they make money on the transaction.
Idaho hunters bagged about 5,500 turkeys in the spring and fall turkey hunting seasons last year, said Don Kemner, a biologist for Idaho Fish and Game.
Oregon has about 30,000 turkeys, said Dave Budeau, a wildlife biologist with Oregon Fish and Wildlife. Most of them are descendants of birds imported from Texas and Kansas.
"A lot of states are looking for good ways to estimate turkey populations, but nobody has come up with a sure-fire method," Budeau said.
Idaho Fish and Game uses biologists' counts and hunting tallies for its turkey census. The wildlife agency doesn't want to see the population get any larger and start competing with native birds, such as the forest grouse, Mitchell said.
Even in Boise, the state's largest city, `you're going to run into turkeys," said Mitchell. "I have friends who chase them within sight of the Capitol building."
Turkeys make a nuisance of themselves in some places. When they gather and stay, they dig up gardens like Owsiak's, erode creek banks, and in other ways annoy farmers and landowners.
But they're easy to move, said Owsiak.
"You just come out and yell 'Shoo' at them and they pretty much take off," she said.
Owsiak's family is one of the many that will be sitting down to wild turkey at Thanksgiving. She shot hers this fall.
"I've eaten several of them, and they're good," Owsiak said.
Source: Associated Press