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Despite permit, no problem turkeys killed

Phil Wright

East Oregonian

Published on January 26, 2018 7:07PM

Last changed on January 26, 2018 9:10PM

In this Sept. 2017 file photo, a pair of wild turkeys walk though a yard  in Pilot Rock.

EO file photo

In this Sept. 2017 file photo, a pair of wild turkeys walk though a yard in Pilot Rock.

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The federal wildlife service stands ready to take out wild turkeys roaming Pilot Rock should the need arise.

So far, it hasn’t.

Citizen complaints about the turkeys causing property damage and creating mounds of scat prompted the city council last year to ban feeding the birds, and on Nov. 21 the council voted in favor of having the United States Department of Agriculture eliminate the wild turkeys.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Pendleton on Dec. 11 wrote the kill permit. State wildlife biologist Mark Kirsch said the permit allows the city to pursue lethal taking within certain parameters and designates the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service as the agency to handle the work.

Kevin Christensen is the assistant state director for ALPHIS and Wildlife Services in Oregon. He explained the division uses a series of steps before an agent can kill an animal, beginning with an on-site inspection to assess if wild animals are a real threat or actually causing property damage.

“A lot of people would have the perception of damage or the threat ... but that may not be the case,” he said.

Field agents also look to see if efforts to harass or haze wildlife are working. Christensen said folks might have done good work harassing animals or putting up barriers, for example, but maybe there are other methods Wildlife Services can help with. Agents have to check back to see if the harassment was successful.

“Then if nothing else works,” he said, “they have to find a suitable, safe location to generally use a firearm to take turkeys.”

That does not mean busting buckshot in bunches of birds.

“When taking one animal, you have educated the other 10 or 20 or 30,” he said.

Agents again return to reinforce the negative consequences. Christensen said that might just mean showing up and not having to fire a gun. He said the goal is to convince the birds they are no longer safe and returning to the wild is the better option.

The gist of the process, he said, is using the least amount of response to get the desired action from the wildlife.

Wildlife services employs about 15 people statewide, including field agents working out of their homes. Umatilla County has one agent, Ken Mitchell, who Christensen said acts as a “one-stop shop” for all kinds of wildlife situations. Christensen said he did not know if Mitchell has made an assessment of Pilot Rock’s turkeys, but he has not killed any to date.

ODFW’s Kirsch also confirmed there have been no kills. The turkeys in recent weeks have not been running around the city, he said, so there does not seem to be a need right now. He also said the permit requires the carcasses to come back to the state.

“We’re going to try to salvage the birds for charitable distribution,” he said.

Municipalities struggling with turkey damage is not atypical, Kirsch said, and it takes a city council interacting with its citizens to reach conclusions on how to handle the situation. But some solutions don’t work so well.

Pilot Rock has heard from at least one local willing to relocate the turkeys. Kirsch said these birds have been hanging around people and pets, and state veterinarians would have little confidence the turkeys are free from transmitting disease.

The turkeys also are accustomed to people, he said, so relocating them means the state has to ensure they don’t bother new neighbors.

“Again, our comfort levels with that are not super high,” Kirsch said. “We don’t want to move a problem from one place and create it for someone else.”

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Contact Phil Wright at pwright@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0833.



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