A New Brunswick hunting organization has applied to the Department of Natural Resources for permission to release wild turkeys in the province.

Wild turkeys are officially considered a non-native bird so releasing them in New Brunswick is illegal.

However, there are turkeys turning up anyway, particularly in western New Brunswick where large groups are being spotted near the Maine border.

Rob Wilson, an avid hunter and president of the Saint John chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, said turkeys were in New Brunswick before and should return

"The goal is to reintroduce the wild turkey back into New Brunswick," he said.

Wilson said he hopes his group will have approval to release more turkeys into the wild by next winter.

There is evidence the birds did exist in southern Maine historically and groups in that state have successfully re-established a wild turkey population.

Wilson’s organization has hired a consulting company to complete a study that will be used in its pitch to the provincial government for permission to release wild turkeys into the province.

"And once this study is completed and everybody is satisfied hopefully we'll be given the green light to release a few birds in the province," he said.

Naturalist concerned

But there is a debate in the province about whether wild turkeys have actually existed in New Brunswick in the past.

Jim Wilson, a naturalist, said his research shows no evidence that wild turkeys were ever in New Brunswick.

Wilson said he’s concerned about the effect these large birds have on other species.

"What would be the impact for example on native ruffed grouse populations, which have a fairly tough time getting through the winter?" Wilson said.