Wild turkeys making comeback in Essex County

Fifteen years ago, wild turkeys didn't exist in Essex County. The birds were reintroduced to the region by the Ministry of Natural Resources and local hunters and there are now 1,500 turkeys.
The wild turkey population is on the rise in Essex County. So is the amount of habitat the bird uses. 2:16

Although native to the area, wild turkeys eventually disappeared from Essex County.

Fifteen years ago, the birds were reintroduced to the region by the Ministry of Natural Resources and local hunters.

By 2003 the numbers had grown to 200 and the hunt was on.

Today, Dale Scott, the regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation, estimates the population at about 1,500 wild turkeys in Essex County and 600 people hunting them every year.

The hunt attracts people from across the country.

Scott said rehabilitating wild turkey habitat was and remains key.

"Here in Essex County, a lot of the habitat work that's been done has been more in tree planting and reforesting after the emerald ash borer," Scott said. "It’s not only about hunting. It’s also about habitat, about conservation and about outreach programs. We’re a lot more than just the hunting component.

Scott said close to 29,000 trees have been planted Amherstburg alone during the last five years."

However, he said in other parts of North America, the wild turkey is threatened by a loss of habitat.

"Overall, in the last three years in North America, the turkey populations have gone down 15 per cent, and it's al habitat related," Scott said.

Scott said wild 6,000 acres of wild turkey habitat is lost each day in North America

Scott hunts turkeys on Dennis Sanson's property in Amherstburg.

Sanson is in the process of conserving 40 acres near the McLean Drain.

"I've always felt a great connection to the land and as I better understood it and grew older I absolutely understood that if you have habitat then you'll have the hunt," Sanson said. "I think I'm at a stage in my life where I derive almost as much satisfaction out of creating habitat as I do hunting."

The federation is not only interested in conservation but it also offers outreach programs to get youth and women to take up the sport.

John Jones runs a mentoring program.

"It's a touchy area because some people think that access is the biggest problem in finding places to hunt and if we make more hunters there is less access," Jones said. "But by having more numbers, politically you have more clout and less opportunity for people to say end hunting all together."

The federation will hold a series of fundraisers in the coming weeks to support its programs and habitat restoration.

The hunting season ends May 31.