Turkey Reign of Terror

 In Blog topics

Photo Credit: Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP

By Ian Nemelka

I live in Mendon, Utah at the foot of the Wellsville Mountains in Cache Valley. It is a quiet little town for the most part, excluding the occasional semi-trailer that passes through on State Highway 23. Some things you might notice about Mendon are its old pioneer homes, the breathtaking views of the mountains, and the ridiculous number of wild turkeys. What started as a novelty for citizens and visitors has now turned into an odd, but very real, wildlife issue which strains the sustainability of human wild turkey relations. . . besides the yearly Thanksgiving ritual of hunting, penning, and eating them.

Now numbering around 1,000 birds (comparable to the population of the town itself) the turkeys were evidently first planted there as part of a state wide effort to restore local ecologies. With the reduced number of natural predators, however, the wild turkey population exploded all throughout Northern Utah. The birds have made a habit of decemating gardens, blocking traffic, chasing children, and defecating over every square foot of towns like Mendon. These issues will only grow worse as the population continues to expand.

The only entity with the authority to manage these wild turkey populations is the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), which leaves very little autonomy to local governments who would like to deal with the pest problem in more *ahem* conventional ways. To their credit, the DWR has recognized the problem, and is contributing many resources and expertise to communities in Northern Utah to help resolve it. In Mendon specifically, the DWR has set up multiple traps and planted oats to lure the turkeys away from the more populated parts of the town. These methods have been relatively effective, but there is still a long way to go.

Hunting licenses are issued “liberally” according to DWR officials. As easy as it would seem to just hunt all the turkeys until there is a more manageable population, the issue is slightly more complex than that. The majority of the birds bed down and forage in people’s yards, less than 10 feet from homes in most cases. Understandably, hunting isn’t condoned in these areas. The risk to human life and property is not outweighed by the turkey blight. Some citizens also apparently feed the birds, leading to the turkeys remaining lower in the valley, and closer to homes, later and later into the official Utah turkey hunting season (April-May).

Although the wild turkey problem has not been completely solved, there is a lot of collaboration happening between locals and the DWR. Officials believe the issue will, slowly but surely, be resolved. Citizens in Mendon don’t want the turkeys to completely disappear, the truth is quite the contrary. Wildlife is what gives the little mountain town part of its charm. The people would simply like to continue to have their voices heard by land and wildlife managers. They are the ones who have to deal with the fallout of unforeseen consequences. This close-to-home situation in Mendon demonstrates that state agencies are in a particularly unique position to responsibly manage wildlife while simultaneously applying the preferences of their own communities. Maybe federalism in action isn’t gobbledegook afterall.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us here at Strata!