Maine’s spring turkey season opens Monday for all hunters. But for sportsmen across the Canadian border, it’s a bittersweet reminder of what they don’t have.

Since state biologist and sportsmen with the National Wild Turkey Federation reintroduced turkeys here in the 1980s, Maine’s flock has proliferated and spread well beyond where anyone imagined including across the New Brunswick border.

Now, with birds crossing into Canada between Calais and Houlton, Canadian hunters want their own turkey population and spring hunt, and are taking steps to get both in New Brunswick.

“Those people are where we were. Their excitement is absolutely amazing,” said Rob Cotiaux, president of the National Wild Turkey Federation chapter in Maine.

“I was at a banquet there on Saturday to help raise money for turkeys in the Maritimes. They are wicked excited about it.”

Having the birds moving into New Brunswick on their own inspired Canadians this winter to lobby the New Brunswick government to let them bring wild birds to the province, the way sportsmen and biologists did in Maine 30 years ago.

Last week, NWTF chapter presidents met with officials at the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources about their proposal. But Department Minister Bruce Northrup sent the sportsmen away with a list of questions, asking them to find out how the birds will affect crops, livestock and other wildlife.

“The question is, were they here originally? That’s the debate,” said federation member Leo Moore in Sussex, New Brunswick. “Are we introducing them or reintroducing them?

“If we do nothing, they will be here in 20 years. We want to help them. I don’t know what will happen. All I can tell you is sportsmen who hunt turkeys are giddy with excitement.”

Officials at the natural resource department in New Brunswick did not return calls. And some outside the situation aren’t sure what Canada should do.

“They’re not so sure the turkey population won’t be a nuisance. They’ve really researched this hard, the issues pertaining to disease that livestock might get. But I think the draft plan raised more questions than it answered. I get the impression it’s in a holding pattern,” said Brad Allen, the bird study leader with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Like officials in the Canadian government, Allen questions the history, and said Maine’s historical research indicates that Mt. Desert Island is the farthest eastern point where turkeys existed in colonial times.

He said Canadians must decide if they want turkeys even though turkeys may not have been there before.

“In our mind, we restored them because we once had them.

“Should you be promoting an introduction of a non-native species? But turkeys in Eastern Maine are already in New Brunswick. It’s an interesting debate.”

Bob Erikson, a National Wild Turkey Federation biologist in New Jersey who advises federation members in the Maritimes, agreed the debate is complicated.

“There is some resistance. There is no concrete evidence turkeys were there in pre-colonial days,” Erikson said. “But now with the mosaic of forest and agriculture, there is more turkey habitat. That’s why they’re doing so well in Maine.”

However, the Canadian hunters’ enthusiasm, like the turkeys’ migration north, knows no bounds.

Rob Wilson, another federation chapter member in New Brunswick, believes turkey hunting will be introduced there.

He said for years, people in Canada have been raising wild turkeys and letting them go — supplementing the wild population moving in from Maine.

“I feel there is a very good chance. We have turkeys everywhere. Champlain had them when he stopped his ship in Quebec. He was eating them on St. Croix Island,” Wilson contends.

In fact, wild turkeys exist today in every state but Alaska, as well as in Ontario.

And the turkey federation members in New Brunswick are not alone in their turkey love. Their neighbors in Nova Scotia want turkeys, too.

Terry Smith of Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been hunting turkeys in Maine for 14 years. He thinks it’s time to hunt them out his back door.

“For 13 years we’ve been trying to do it in Nova Scotia. We’re very persistent. We’re not giving up. Sooner or later, we’ll have turkeys here,” Smith said.

For their part, turkey federation members in Maine are rooting for their neighbors to the north.

“We’ll do everything we can, offer moral support and advice,” Cotiaux said.

And Allen, too, said he will offer technical support, if needed. He just wants the Canadians to be certain they want turkeys if they choose to grow a population there.

“I don’t know what Samuel Champlain had for supper. Just because he had some barbecue in 1604 doesn’t mean turkeys came from the province. I think it’s questionable,” Allen said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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