Ottawa

Return of wild turkeys sparks Ontario debate

Wild turkeys have returned to eastern Ontario in unprecedented numbers, a development that has conservationists cheering but some farmers crying "fowl."

Wild turkeys have returned to eastern Ontario in unprecedented numbers, a development that has conservationists cheering but some farmers crying "fowl."

Wildlife expert Darcy Alkerton lets turkeys feed on his farm near Spencerville, Ont. ((Chad Pawson/CBC))

Having almost vanished because of logging and unregulated hunting, the birds were re-introduced to Ontario 20 years ago.

The provincewide population of wild turkeys has now reached 100,000, with 13,000 of them in the Ottawa area.

"[It's a] very wise bird. That's why they've existed so well. It's because they are smart," said Darcy Alkerton, a wildlife expert in the Spencerville, Ont., area.

Alkerton built his house in the middle of a cornfield so he could watch turkeys feeding there.

But Lanark farmer John Vanderspank said the turkey flocks are expanding at the expense of his crops. He wants the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to issue turkey-hunting permits.

He said it's something the ministry did five years ago to reduce the number of deer in eastern Ontario.

"I've proved it with the deer, that if you hunt them a little early — and … you don't have to go silly, just get a few here and there — the rest will move," Vanderspank said.

Compromise proposed

Alkerton said doing the same with turkeys would be a mistake that would ruin the flock. But he also felt that way about the deer.

"I don't think that the nuisance deer permits should ever have been given out," he said.

The eastern Ontario flock of wild turkeys has surged to about 13,000. ((Chad Pawson/CBC))

Alkerton also is not enthusiastic about a compromise by the Natural Resources Ministry, a proposed fall hunt to go along with the already existing hunt in the spring.

A wild turkey hunter in Carleton Place, Ont., is even more emphatically against introducing the fall hunt.

"A fall hunt includes the killing of hens. When you start killing hens, that has a really long-term effect on your population base of wild turkeys," said Paul Ross, president of the Carleton Place chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

"They're still a fragile population here, and this winter will be a true tell of how they are going to react," he said.

In addition to the fall hunt, some farmers want special permits to cull the flocks of turkeys and financial compensation for crops they say the turkeys are eating. 

Biologists with the Ministry of Natural Resources say the birds only eat what has already fallen to the ground.

now