July 08, 2004 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Staff Writer

Oregon's wild turkey story would have impressed the likes of Benjamin Franklin, the statesman who wanted to make the wild turkey our national bird in the late 1700s.

Three decades ago there were were relatively few wild turkeys in Oregon. Thirty years and 584 releases later there are an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 turkeys in the state. In 2003 hunters took a total of 4,844 turkeys during the spring and fall hunting seasons.

Today turkeys are found in 35 percent of Oregon. This range might increase if a proposed wild turkey management plan is adopted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The plan would allow the ODFW to transplant turkeys in areas where there are no turkeys if this would not harm plant and animal species, said Dave Budeau, the ODFW's upland game bird coordinator.

No transplants are allowed in unoccupied areas under the ODFW's current trap and transplant guidelines.

The proposed plan would also make it easier to trap turkeys. Present guidelines allow turkeys to be trapped only in places where they are causing property damage or are a nuisance. The new guidelines would allow turkeys to be trapped anywhere.

John Thiebes, field administrator for the Oregon Hunters Association, speaks highly of the plan in part because it would make it easier to trap and transplant.

"Overall we are very pleased,'' Thiebes said.

Thiebes is glad to see that the plan does not prevent the ODFW from bringing in turkeys from outside the state for transplants. The present guidelines prohibit turkeys from being brought in from outside the state.

Thiebes said it is important for the ODFW have the out-of-state option in case it wants to build up Merriam's populations in the future.

Most of Oregon's turkeys are Rio Grandes, however, there are 2,000 to 3,000 Merriam's or Merriam's-Rio Grande hybrids.

Areas that have Rio Grande-Merriam's hybrids include Wallowa County. The reason is that Idaho's Merriam's turkeys are crossing the Snake River and breeding with Rio Grande turkeys in Wallowa County, said Enterprise ODFW biologist Vic Coggins.

In Wallowa and Union counties it is doubtful that liberalized trap and transplant regulations would have an impact on the ranges of turkeys. In Wallowa County there are turkeys everywhere but in the high Wallowas, Coggins said. Union County turkeys can be found throughout the area, said

La Grande ODFW biologist Leonard Erickson.

Fall hunts

Fall hunting seasons are an important tool for population management, and should continue to used, according to the ODFW's proposed management plan. Fall hunting seasons have a significant impact on numbers because both sexes can be taken. In the spring season only males can be killed.

In 2003, hunters took 4,089 turkeys in the spring and 755 in the fall.

A fall season exists in part of Baker County but there are none in Union and Wallowa counties.

Fall seasons may be added in this area in the future. La Grande ODFW biologist Leonard Erickson said that a fall season might be added in Union County as a means of controlling populations and dealing with nuisance problems. The addition of any fall seasons would have to be approved by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.

winter feeding

The proposed plan also addresses the issue of winter feeding of turkeys. The plan discourages people from spreading food like grain in the winter to attract turkeys.

"Most wild turkey biologists agree that supplemental feeding does not enhance survival nor reproductive performance of wild turkeys under normal winter conditions,'' according to the ODFW's proposed plan.

Supplemental feeding artificially concentrates birds and predisposes them to predation, diseases and poaching, the proposed management plan states. In addition the report says that turkeys that are fed lose their fear of people and become a nuisance.

The plan does encourage people to help turkeys in the winter by leaving unharvested crops, which are described as an "excellent'' alternative to supplemental feeding.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote on adoption of the ODFW's proposed wild turkey management plan at its Aug. 6 meeting. Public input on the plan will be accepted through the end of the month. Comments can be mailed to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Wildlife Division, 3406 Cherry Ave NE, Salem, 97303. Input to the ODFW can be e-mailed to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

The plan is on the ODFW's Web site: www.dfw.state.or.us. Once on the Web site's home page take the following steps:

• click on commission.

• click on meeting schedules.

• click on July 9, 2004-Salem.

• scroll down to Exhibit J. A copy of the proposed plan is available there.