New resource development minister sets sights on turkey hunt

Wild turkey numbers have been growing slowly for years, and it may not be long before New Brunswickers are able to hunt them.

It’s easy to see wild turkeys if you know where to look, says naturalist Jim Wilson

These wild turkeys were spotted on Nov. 10 about five kilometres north of Woodstock. (Submitted by Jeff Kelly)

Wild turkey numbers have been growing slowly for years, and it may not be long before New Brunswickers are able to hunt them.

Mike Holland, the new minister of energy and resource development, said the wheels are in motion to develop a wild turkey wildlife management program.

While it's still in the early stages, Holland said he expects to have department officials working on the subject within a month.

"We have a population of birds that are in the province now, so what we are looking forward to now, in addition to hunting them, is having the ability to start putting together manageable research on a species of wildlife in the province that we currently don't have a lot of information on," Holland said.

A lifelong hunter himself, Holland is a former board member of the Canadian Wild Turkey Federation.

"I've spent my entire life in some way, shape or form engaged in our hunting heritage and outdoor lifestyle, so it's a file and it's a department with which I have a significant amount of practical experience," said Holland, whose Albert campaign signs for the September election said "Preserving our outdoor heritage." 

Holland said his connections to the hunting and outdoors community will be valuable in bringing stakeholders to the table during the development of the wild turkey program.

He said he wants to ensure all interest groups that would be affected by or benefit from a wild turkey management program are involved in the development of the plan.

This flock of about 30 turkeys was spotted on Nov. 10 off the Trans Canada highway north of Woodstock 0:44

While there is no official count of wild turkeys in New Brunswick, Holland said that based on reports of sightings across the province there are upwards of 1,000 birds.

Jim Wilson, a naturalist who lives in Quispamsis, said it's pretty easy to find wild turkeys in the province if you know where to look.

"There seem to be wild turkeys that are doing reasonably well in certain parts of New Brunswick," Wilson said. "Near the Maine border there appears to be a population that could be getting close to or maybe even is self-sustaining, but it's not a large population from what I know."

Wilson said wild turkeys tend to do best in agricultural areas or near human habitation. Those are places where it's easiest for the birds to find food all year long.

"It's pretty easy to find wild turkeys in Charlotte county and also certain areas of Carleton county."

While Wilson hasn't tracked the numbers himself, he said the species does seem to be doing better in certain areas than it ever has.

Mike Holland, the new energy and resource development minister, is a former board member of the Canadian Wild Turkey Federation. (Mike Holland MLA for the Albert riding Facebook page)
However, Wilson also cautioned against weighing sightings of birds that appear in an area one year and are gone the next. He said those are likely birds that were released from captivity in an effort to increase the population.

"They might survive a year or two, but eventually they seem to succumb to difficulty getting food, harsh winters, deep snow," he said.

Turkeys that may have migrated from northern parts of Maine stand a better chance of taking root in the province.

Jim Wilson, a naturalist said it's pretty easy to find wild turkeys in the province if you know where to look. (Submitted by Jim Wilson)

"They have become habituated to the wild, they seem to be more hardy and able to cope with some of the conditions that we have," Wilson said.

Turkeys don't migrate like other birds, Wilson said, but they do expand their range by walking, which could explain their slow growth in New Brunswick.

"It may be that they've made their way through some of the coniferous forests that don't have a lot of food for them by walking along hydro lines or even pipelines, gas pipelines, that would have deciduous foliage and deciduous shrubbery and be kind of be almost a roadway that would bring them in the direction of New Brunswick."

Wilson said he isn't a biologist, so he doesn't know for sure what effect the growing turkey population might have on the ecology of the province, but the fact that they've been able to survive suggests they've filled a niche in the environment.

"If it's a gradual thing and they are doing it on a natural basis … I would think it wouldn't necessarily be negative for other forms of wildlife."

Holland said it's his department's responsibility to gather data and manage any wildlife species in the province, including turkeys.

"What we've got is a species that is unchecked, unmanaged and basically we're not following through on that. That's the concern."

About the Author

Angela Bosse

Reporter

Angela Bosse is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick.