Wildlife management plan to address turkey troubles

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Unusually clever and hard to trap, wild turkeys prove vexxing for wilflife officials in Libby. (Paul Sievers/The Western News)

Libby officials are embarking on an effort to create a wildlife management plan that addresses a creature that residents and authorities alike describe as messy, aggressive and occasionally violent: the wild turkey.

“I have had multiple calls this year concerning turkeys, everything from them knocking an elderly lady down who was on oxygen all the way to pooping on brand new vehicles — and on decks — that sort of thing,” said Montana State Game Warden Tamie Laverdure-Fitchett. “We definitely have some sort of issues with the turkeys in the town.”

The state was devoid of turkeys until Montana Fish and Game introduced the birds in 1954. They selected the Merriam’s turkey, importing it from Colorado and Wyoming until 1957.

Another type of wild turkey, an Eastern subspecies native to hardwood forests, was illegally introduced about the same time, according to the Helena Independent Record. The two types spread across the state, interbreeding as they went.

And, in a few areas, they grew into a nuisance.

“Eureka has a big problem with them, and even down here in Kalispell, we hear people complain,” said Dillon Tabish, regional information and program manager with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

When City Councilor Rob Dufficy was asked to give an update on Libby’s wildlife management committee Dec. 2, he named turkeys alongside deer and bears as animal species they hoped to eventually address in a formal plan. Although the group remains in its infancy, the two viable options are either trapping them for relocation —“far away,” Dufficy specified — or euthanizing them.

At present, the state does not relocate turkeys, said Laverdure-Fitchett. Euthanasia remains the only option to her team and even that proves difficult.

If requested, state officials can employ a trap trailer, where feed is used to lure the birds aboard. But the birds are smart and they often bolt when they hear a human approaching to snap the trap shut, Laverdure-Fitchett said.

“They’re very clever and very hard to trap,” she said. “If I could just trap them, it would not be a problem. The landowners who have elected to use a trap trailer — they have found it’s not easy to do.”

The most she has captured at once is nine, Laverdure-Fitchett said. Those that are euthanized end up harvested and turned over to local food pantries, she said.

One possible solution is bringing hunters into an area where the turkeys — a game bird — have turned troublesome.

“Our game wardens aren’t going to go out and shoot turkeys for folks,” Tabish said. “You can allow hunters onto your property, though.”

Laverdure-Fitchett said she routinely connects property owners with hunters for this reason. Unfortunately, in many cases, the birds come right back, she said.

And within the city’s boundaries, hunting the birds is off limits. Turkeys are drawn to the human population because of attractants. Residents may feed them, and there is the presence of fruit-bearing trees and plants, Laverdure-Fitchett said. Whether they also realize they are safe from hunters within city limits remains unknown, but she has her suspicions.

“It seems like they know because they head to town,” Laverdure-Fitchett said. “They come and go. It seems like during the hunting season they’re everywhere in town and as soon as the season is over they sort of wander out a bit.”

Both Laverdure-Fitchett and Tabish expressed willingness to work with Libby on a wildlife management plan.

“They create a lot of problems; they make a mess; they congregate in large numbers; and they don’t leave,” Tabish said. “We would have to talk to the city about what their plans are.”

“We have not yet figured out the best means to take care of them, but it is defintely a concern and folks do complain a lot,” said Laverdure-Fitchett.

Updating fellow city councilors on the wildlife management committee, Dufficy said the commission plans to elect a chairperson as soon as possible. In the meantime, members are reviewing management plans adopted by communities in eastern Montana, he said.

“We’re still in the early stages here, doing our research for developing our own plans here in Libby,” said Mayor Brent Teske on Dec. 2.

Lavedure-Fitchett applauded the city’s effort.

“I would like the city to see the city draft the plan and we’re willing to do what we can with that management plan,” she said. “We do take those complaints seriously but it is up to the city to come up with management plan and, again, we’ll do whatever we can to help.”

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