Once upon a time, Turkey Little was traveling through the forest, scratching the leaves, and pecking here and there in search of some morsel to munch on. Overhead there was a rush of wind through the treetops when suddenly and without warning, Turkey Little was struck on the head by a falling acorn.
Taken by surprise and panicked, Turkey Little went rushing off to tell the other forest creatures that the sky was falling.
Regular readers of this column may recall another parable I presented early last winter about another turkey, one that laid golden eggs. As any good story must, it contained some element of the eternal battle between good and evil. For those who missed it (the story or the point), the evil presented itself in the form of a proposal before the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to dramatically liberalize turkey seasons and bag limits. This proposal, if approved and signed into law, potentially could have devastating effects on the state’s turkey population. I felt a little like Turkey Little later last winter when I learned the committee had given a favorable recommendation to this proposal. It did indeed appear that the sky might indeed be falling.
The impetus behind this proposal was a perception that Maine’s turkey population had grown too large and was becoming a legitimate problem. But like a mirage, perceptions can be misleading. One of the more popular propaganda philosophies employed by Axis forces during World War II was that if you repeat something often enough people will begin to believe it is true. And proponents of the proposal to thin Maine’s turkey population may have unwittingly fallen into that trap.
The reintroduction of turkeys into Maine is one of the pre-eminent wildlife conservation success stories of the last century. In addition to bringing back a species that had been extirpated from all of New England, we also introduced a new type of hunting to the state (when turkeys last occurred here they were hunted strictly in the fall), and Maine’s first generation of spring turkey hunters is just now passing this new tradition on to the next.
Meanwhile, the economic benefit of having an entirely new species to hunt in both spring and fall seasons should ruffle more than a few feathers. In addition to license and permit sales, it has generated millions of dollars in revenue from the sale of firearms and ammunition, camo clothing, calls, decoys and all manner of turkey hunting paraphernalia, to say nothing of gas, food, lodging and guide fees – all golden eggs that could perpetually be available to the people of Maine if this resource continues to be carefully and conservatively managed. Unfortunately, some are pushing a far more liberal agenda.
I do not dispute that turkeys may have become abundant enough in certain localized areas that they are perceived as a nuisance. Again, much of that is perception. They’re more noticeable to some because they’re new. Less than 40 years ago there were no turkeys in Maine and they’ve only shown up more recently.
They’re also hard to miss. You don’t see the deer, coyotes, foxes and skunks that visit at night, and you may not even notice a few thousand blackbirds dropping in to visit the local blueberry barren, but you’ll sure pick out a half-dozen turkeys in that same patch. And they’ll get all the blame if a few berries are missing. I’ve even heard some folks say that turkeys are a problem because they help the spread ticks that carry Lyme disease. Guess what? Turkeys eat ticks.
Our statewide turkey population has indeed grown, but so have season lengths, bag limits, hunting efforts and total harvest. Ironically, detractors often use the annual kill totals – the very mechanism that keeps turkey populations in check – as evidence the population is too great. If that’s the case should we not also try to reduce deer and bear populations?
Probably not, because perception and reality don’t coincide. For the last 28 years I have resided and hunted turkeys in the same area of southern Maine, an area reported to have among the densest turkey populations in the state. The population around my home has indeed grown in that time, but not as much as you may think.
It grew quickly at first but the growth leveled out nearly as fast. There have been minor fluctuations from one year to the next, but in general there are no more turkeys now in the 10 or 12 towns I hunt than there were 20 years ago, at least not after hunting season ends.
It turns out the legislative committee voted that the bill “ought to pass as amended,” and the amendment basically handed authority for adjusting seasons and bag limits over to the commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. That means the decision-making is left up to trained professionals who, though they can be influenced by legislators, are mandated to manage wildlife resources in the best interest of their constituents – you and me.
Not only is the sky not falling but the clouds are dissipating and the ceiling lifting. And if we continue to manage our turkeys responsibly, Turkey Little will stick around long enough to start laying more golden eggs.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: