Turkeys are bigger problems than geese

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 The Big Game Steering Committee joins me in thinking we need to harvest a lot more turkeys. At the January 5 Steering Committee meeting, Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Associatoin said, “I worry that this (plan) is not enough – that the turkey population will continue to increase and be like the goose problem.”

Tom Doak of the Maine Woodland Owners quickly responded, “We’re already at the goose problem level with turkeys!”

And while DIF&W debates how to increase the number of turkey hunters, Doak asked, “If we want to reduce the population why don’t we increase the bag limit. That’s easier and more likely than increasing the number of hunters.”

I can only add Amen to that statement, with the hope that Tom and Don will both attend the public hearing on my turkey bill, sponsored by Senator Paul Davis, that would eliminate the turkey hunting permit and fee, allow online and phone tagging, and expand the bag limits to three toms in the spring season and three birds of either sex in the fall season.

In DIF&W’s draft of the new turkey management plan, they ask for authority over bag limits, in order to increase them in some WMDs. They could actually use my bill to do that.

The committee was told that complaints received about ticks on turkeys are unwarranted. Turkey tagging stations found no ticks on harvested turkeys. DIF&W was asked to come up with some data to educate hunters and the public about this issue.

Concerns were also raised at the meeting about the impact of turkeys on deer and grouse, but the department denied that this was a problem. One hot tip for turkey hunters is this: breeding always begins in early May. I’ve heard from some hunters who think, when April weather is warm, that turkeys start breeding earlier. Those hunters have been calling for an earlier start to the season. Apparently that’s not a good idea.

Kleiner noted the need for fact sheets on turkeys and other big game animals, and improved communications about them with hunters, landowners, and the public.

The draft turkey management plan calls for maintaining a healthy, sustainable turkey population while providing hunting and viewing opportunities. Lots of strategies are suggested, including directing a portion of the wild turkey permit fees to wild turkey research, including research of the impact of turkeys on forest regeneration (particularly chestnuts), impacts on other wildlife species, and the relationship between turkeys and ticks.

Many of the objectives in the plan are interesting including this one: “In southern and central Maine, stabilize wild turkey populations below biological carrying capacity and at socially acceptable levels.”

One strategy to achieve that goal sounds a lot like what I hope to achieve with my legislative bill: “Refine the turkey management system in order to adjust the harvest of female turkeys during fall by altering bag limits and season lengths in response to information on turkey population trends and weather conditions.”

In an effort to reduce landowner complaints and better manage the turkey population, the plan includes several strategies, including giving DIF&W authority to “establish special wild turkey hunts in hotspot areas of conflict.”

I am sure that Senator Paul Davis is willing and eager to use our bill to accomplish some of these and the other goals, objectives, and strategies in the draft turkey management plan, as I am. Let’s hope DIF&W steps up to get that done at the legislature this session.

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