Wild turkeys are so numerous in the Pine Valley area that some residents are concerned they may be competing with domesticated animals and song birds for food. State biologists will be trapping turkeys next week and transplanting them elsewhere in Baker County. (Photograph courtesy of the National Wild Turkey Federation).
By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
What better time than Thanksgiving to have too many turkeys.
The turkey talk in this case, though, deals not with how long to bake the bird, or whether to cook the stuffing inside or out.
Were talking about wild turkeys.
For the first time since the state released the inaugural flock of wild turkeys in Baker County about 14 years ago, biologists have received complaints from residents who believe there are too many of the gregarious gobblers on their properties.
Over the past few weeks, three Pine Valley residents have called the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlifes office in Baker City, asking for help, said Todd Callaway, assistant wildlife biologist at the office.
So this week officials began preparing to trap some of those turkeys and release them elsewhere in Baker County.
Trapping is scheduled to start next week.
Deborah Mader is one of the residents who finally tired of the burgeoning turkey population on her property.
Mader and her husband, David, own 180 acres in two parcels at the north end of Pine Valley.
About 400 birds are living on the property, she estimated.
Im looking out my window right now and I can see, oh, maybe 50 turkeys running across the field, Mader said during a telephone interview last week. And thats just a tiny part of (the population).
Mader said the turkeys like to munch on hay she sets out for her Belgian draft horses.
The birds also feed in the Maders grain fields, she said.
And Mader is concerned the big gobblers might scare away the smaller songbirds she feeds during Pine Valleys harsh winters. She said she already has raised her bird feeders to try to foil the turkeys.
For all the turkey troubles, though, Mader said she doesnt want to rid the valley of the wild gobblers.
Its not that I think there shouldnt be any turkeys, she said.
Mader hopes the ODFW will schedule a public meeting in Halfway so residents and biologists can talk over the matter.
How many is too many turkeys?
For her part, Mader would like to know what biologists consider the appropriate turkey population for the area.
Five years ago the Maders rarely saw a turkey on their place.
A few years later they noticed the birds more often, but they stayed for just a couple of weeks during the winter, Mader said.
Now the gobblers hang around most of the year.
Matt Newberry and his wife, Inga Thompson, have seen the same trends with the turkey flocks on their 120-acre property on the west side of Pine Valley, about two miles from Halfway.
When the couple moved in eight years ago there were few turkeys around, Newberry said, and they stayed down in the valley during the winter only.
Now there are at least 100 turkeys living on the property year round, he said.
Theyre just so thick, Newberry said. Theyre constantly in our flower and vegetable garden they even come on the porch.
And then theres the matter of the turkeys. . . well, their leavings.
Turkey crap is something to be reckoned with, Newberry said.
But like the Maders, Newberry doesnt want all the turkeys run off.
We really like having them around, he said. But anything in too big a number is a problem.
Turkeys like Halfway, too
Callaway said turkey populations have skyrocketed in the Panhandle in part because there is plenty of suitable habitat.
The birds prefer to roost in tall conifer trees, of which there are many on the valleys fringes and along Pine Creek.
But Callaway said its likely turkeys would have prospered even if ODFW never turned any loose in the area.
Many of the turkeys in Pine Valley arent the Rio Grande variety the only subspecies ODFW has released in Baker County but Merriams, a type transplanted in Idaho.
Callaway said many of those Merriams migrated across the Snake River to Oregon, where they have multiplied. Theyve also interbreeded with the Rio Grande birds, improving the turkeys genetics, he said.
Most of the pure Merriams are on the east side of the valley, nearest Idaho, Callaway said.
ODFWs goal is to distribute turkeys more evenly across the county, he said.
We think weve got some habitat wed like to get them into, Callaway said.
Spreading around the birds also prevents turkey hunters from overcrowding areas during the spring tom turkey hunt, he said.
Although biologists hope this falls trapping effort will alleviate the problems plaguing the Maders and other Pine Valley landowners, Callaway said ODFW may have to test other tactics in the future.
One possibility is adding a fall turkey hunt. Now, only Jackson and Douglas counties in Southwestern Oregon have fall turkey seasons.
Neither Mader nor Newberry has ever hunted wild turkeys, but both said the fall hunting season seems appropriate.
I wouldnt mind finding out what a wild turkey tastes like, Mader said.