Last Gobble for Oregon Wild Turkeys

(Vanessa Lee, AIM Equipments)

Thanksgiving is still months away, but the wild turkeys in Jefferson, Ore., are facing the gun barrel early.

Officials were shooting wild turkeys, citing complaints that the birds have become an annoyance. Some of the complaints about the turkeys are that they scratch the paint off of cars and build their nests on rooftops.

"The city received turkey complaints [and] the city sought solutions to resolve turkey problems they had reports from local citizens about," said Steve Marks, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's South Willamette watershed manager. "We were aware of the situation and kind of advised the city and local residents of the types of actions you would take to resolve turkey damage and kind of worked in a technical capacity to advise what their options are."

Marks said that Jefferson City recently adopted a no-feeding ordinance because turkeys will generally congregate where food is available.

"If residents are feeding turkeys, it can cause large congregations of turkeys and they can start roosting and scratch the roofs of vehicles," Marks said.

However, not everyone in the small town agrees that the wild birds are a nuisance.

Shauna Martin, a local resident who works at AIM Equipments, the property where most of the turkeys tend to congregate, said she is against killing the turkeys.

"They're not a nuisance at all," Martin said. "They came to our land about six years ago and every year they come back, roost and lay their eggs here. And after the babies are 2 weeks old, the mama starts walking them around. And that's when they start going to other people's area."

Martin said the entire ordeal has taken an emotional toll on her and other residents.

"I wish I could net them myself and protect them - but they're wildlife, I can't do that," Martin said. "They've become my pets, my friends and they are tugging on my heartstrings right now."

The permit, which allows a skilled hunter to shot the turkeys, was given to Jefferson by the state, and is expected to be used to kill several of the toms - the bigger male turkeys - in the hope that other turkeys will scatter. The appointed hunter was to be chosen by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Jefferson City Mayor Ben Pickett said late Tuesday that three toms already were "harvested" Tuesday morning.

"It is my understanding that ODFW [Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife] made it clear trapping and relocation efforts were not an option and issued the city three turkey harvest permits," he said in a written statement.

Martin blamed the mayor for what she believes is an unnecessary plan.

"The mayor will tell you there are 70, but I haven't seen more than 12 turkeys ever," Martin said.

Jefferson Area Chamber of Commerce President Bill Fricke said that he personally doesn't see any harm in keeping the turkeys around, but is trying to stay objective because of his position.

"As the president, I'm trying to take a neutral stance," Fricke said. "I don't want to pressure our board members from feeling one way or another. I put the details out as we get them and allow our members to make their own decisions.

"We are kind of used to the turkeys being part of the [AIM Equipments] property, and the owners always made it known the property is safe for them," Fricke added. "I see them all over the neighborhood, and they don't bother anybody. I think it's cool to have wild turkeys roaming the neighborhood like neighbors.

"People are saying these turkeys tend to be aggressive," Fricke said. "I've never seen any aggression from these turkeys, whether they're babies or fully grown. If you step out there, they'll just move out of your way."

In addition to killing the birds, Marks said, the plan for the city also includes other actions.

"They have also done some outreach in the community to reduce feeding of birds and provide them options for hazing to help reduce damage," he said. "Because the birds habituate easily, they need to curb the human behaviors to make the turkeys wild again."

Kenneth Campbell, the Ornithology Department curator at the Natural Museum of Ornithology in Los Angeles, said killing the toms is not an effective way to solve the turkey problem.

"If they're trying to control the population, removing the toms, unless you removed all of them, is not going to achieve population control, because it only takes one tom to breed with many, many females," Campbell said.

Campbell added that the social birds can become an inconvenience in some cases.

"With subdivisions and homes going into rural areas and bringing with them irrigation and edible plants they become attractive to turkeys, which tend to congregate where there is a lot of food and water," Campbell said. "They are social birds so they tend to congregate."

Marks says it's not uncommon to see a turkey community in towns where there is food and water available.

"This is not an uncommon problem, where we have a turkey habitat and concentrations, because they are fairly easily habituated," Marks said. "Human behavior can cause some problems when we think we are doing the right thing by feeding the birds, and that can cause unintended consequences."

Jefferson City said it will give the meat from the killed turkeys to needy families.

"The turkeys were taken to the processing facility in Scio and processed as per ODFW's permit requirements," Pickett said in his prepared statement. "The edible parts of the turkey will be delivered [Wednesday] to the first three low-income families in Jefferson on the ODFW approved list. All other parts of the turkey will be incinerated as per ODFW's requirements."

Martin said she spoke to local hunters who said the meat is not good to eat.

"These are old toms, old turkeys. Any time you eat turkey at your dinner table, it's less than 1 year old," Martin said. "When they get older, the meat gets tougher. And when they're wild, they're all brown meat, not white. These families don't know what they're getting."

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