Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), the iconic bird of the Pilgrims, were nearly extirpated by American settlers. A 100 years ago, market hunting and habitat destruction had completely eliminated turkeys in many eastern and midwestern states, including Michigan, and severely reduced their populations throughout the country. Today, turkey populations have rebounded, perhaps reaching their highest levels in 300 years.

What happened? ---Taxes and government regulation saved the turkey.

By the end of the 19th century, states were beginning to pass laws to restrict market hunting. The Lacey Act, a federal law passed in 1900, outlawed the interstate sale of illegal wildlife products. Together these regulations slowed the decline of the turkey but it wasn't until a new tax was introduced during the Great Depression that the birds started to recover.

In 1937, The Pittman Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act imposed a sales tax on hunting equipment. The tax was supported by sport hunters since its revenue was used for habitat acquisition and improvement, reintroduction of species, and research & education. This successful program, administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, funded the return of the turkey (and many other species).

Today, wild turkeys are pretty common. In Kalamazoo, I frequently see them on my commute to the college. In Michigan, turkey population estimates are 40 times higher than they were in the 1960s. In some places, turkey-human interaction has led to conflicts.

If you're interested in reading more about wild turkeys, the National Wild Turkey Federation has interesting article, "History of the Wild Turkey in North America"(pdf). If you're interested in hunting turkeys in Michigan, try the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association.

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