Fish and Wildlife Department may get authority over turkey bag limits and seasons

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Turkey bag limits and seasons are set in law, but that may change. My turkey bill, LD 98, was amended by the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife today to give the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife full authority to set bag limits and seasons, including the opportunity to schedule special hunts where turkeys are causing problems.

Currently bag limits and seasons are set in law, giving the agency no opportunity to make any changes.

The three sections of my turkey bill were removed. One called for elimination of the turkey hunting permit and fee, to encourage more hunters to try turkey hunting. The department and several IFW Committee members were skeptical that this would actually attract a lot more turkey hunters, and the committee felt that DIF&W needed the money for turkey research and other purposes.

Another part of the bill would have allowed turkeys to be registered online or by phone. I think a lot of turkey hunters don’t bother to register their birds, because there is no tagging station nearby. But DIF&W objected strongly, stating that they thought online tagging would actually result in less turkeys being tagged. The bill did not eliminate tagging stations. It just gave hunters another option for tagging their turkeys.

A third section of the bill would have expanded the bag limit to three toms in the spring and three turkeys of either sex in the fall. This would not have worked statewide, but it did give us a chance to talk about the need to increase bag limits in some areas.

At the IFW Committee work session today, I urged the committee to use my bill to give the department the authority to set bag limits and seasons, something they called for in their new draft turkey management plan. If the committee hadn’t used my bill to achieve this change, it would not have been possible until next year.

Both Wildlife Division Director Judy Camuso and IFW Deputy Commissioner Tim Peabody joined me in asking the committee to give their agency this authority.

The amended bill won a unanimous vote by IFW Committee members. If it is enacted by the House and Senate and signed into law by the Governor, the department will have all the authority it needs to make significant changes in the turkey hunt and their management of turkeys throughout the state.

At the end of the long afternoon, there was some discussion focused on complaints about turkeys from farmers, landowners, and others. Peabody reported that the agency got less than 60 complaints last year. Several IFW Committee members said they got lots of complaints, but didn’t forward them to DIF&W.

Both Peabody and Camuso urged anyone with a complaint about turkeys to call their agency at 207-287-8000. And they promised to respond to all complaints.

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