Nuisance turkeys baffle farmer, California game regulators
They’re not native or protected and they like crimson clover—but it’s really hard to get the OK to do anything remotely humane about them.

Posted November 9, 2006


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I wanted to comment on the letter answered in the October issue from Enness Arnold of Circle I Farms, Wilcox, Arizona.

His problem was rabbits eating his crops; mine is turkeys. We have parallel stories.

Last winter the turkeys grubbed out my crimson clover cover crop—the clover was knee-high in the garden where the turkeys won’t go; in the field where we planted it, we had better than 95 percent loss. The turkeys scratched through the snow.

A rafter of about 62 turkeys—the neighbor counted— occupies my farm which borders government land. Turkeys are not native to California, and the Department of Fish & Game released them to sell hunting licenses and raise revenue for the state. The population of these invasive pests is out of control. They are feral [ed. – having returned to an untamed state], not wild. Every now and then a young turkey is born streaked with white feathers.

The turkeys won’t scatter if I approach them with the car. They enter the house if I leave the door ajar.

Last year, I called Fish & Game and inquired what I could do about these pests that ate my cover crop. Fish & Game shrugged, telling me that the department would issue a free depredation permit and I could shoot them. I told them I don’t own a gun, didn’t have time to sit and shoot turkeys, and wanted a better plan. Fish & Game offered the depredation permit and that was all.

My bill for cover crop seed from Peaceful Valley [Farm & Garden Supply] was $692. I’ve got crimson clover again, also fava beans, suggested by another farmer who thought turkeys would not bother fava beans and a mix of other species to try and find one species that the turkeys don’t like. I persuaded a retired neighbor to sit and shoot once when the seeds sprout. This seemed like a plan.

This year, Fish & Game refused the permit – evidently a change of policy. The biologist who issues these permits lives in Sacramento and left a message on my answering machine: “My dog chases turkeys, I’ll lend you my dog.” These are long-distance calls and I’ve made about 12 of them, getting replies like “scare crow” and “I’m on vacation” with no “will call you back.”

I’ll mention two other things here. First, ideally, I’d like to throw out contraceptive bait, and reduce the populations, maybe even making these critters wild again. Fish & Game has no insight into biological science and contraceptive control, such as that suggested for wild horses on government land.

Second, I have a background in chemistry and toxicology and I could poison these pests without detection, if I wanted, but I hesitate endangering the kit fox that eats the turkeys’ carcasses. We have the Mokelumne Hill kit fox in our area. So I have made the effort to cooperate with state regulators at Fish & Game, and I get rebuffed.

My time is at a premium. I don’t have time to synchronize with a prodigal government-time agency. Is there a way to make government work as it’s supposed to?

Part of the policy strain comes from the governor’s pledge to make state agencies pay for themselves. Fish & Game wants revenue, and the department is willing to sacrifice game management to make the buck. To be legal, must I resign myself to feeding the state’s turkeys with $692 of cover crop seed?

Bud Hoekstra
San Andreas CA