POCATELLO — Several local residents are denouncing the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for recently harvesting two dozen wild turkeys near the Gibson Jack area south of Pocatello.
Steve Leaman, who has lived in the Gibson Jack area for more than five decades, says the decision of Fish and Game officials to kill the birds as opposed to relocating them to a different area less populated with humans was wrong.
“I have lived up Gibson Jack for 52 years, and months ago I was told that these turkeys were going to be transported or that Fish and Game would contact the National Wild Turkey Federation before they did anything,” Leaman said. “I feel (Fish and Game) made the wrong choice and should have transported these turkeys somewhere else.”
Jennifer Jackson, a conservation educator for the southeast region of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, told the Journal on Monday that Fish and Game officials harvested 24 of approximately 60 to 80 turkeys located in the Gibson Jack area during the morning of Nov. 26.
Jackson said the turkeys were trapped via nets shot from guns and later euthanized. Each of the turkeys have been sent to a meat processor and will be donated to Southeast Idaho charities to be included in food boxes for those in need.
Fish and Game officials decided to capture the turkeys after fielding numerous complaints, many of which were received in the past four or five months, from landowners in the Gibson Jack area claiming that the birds were destroying property and causing other general nuisances, Jackson said.
Further, Fish and Game officials considered several factors before ultimately determining it was best to euthanize the turkeys, including the inclement weather throughout the region, an observation that the birds were no longer afraid of people and the lack of a hunting season for turkeys in the specific area. Jackson said Fish and Game officials could consider reopening the area for turkey hunts if issues persist in the future.
“We looked at all of our options and (euthanization) was the best that we had,” Jackson said. “The reason that was the best option is because we don’t have a hunting season on that side of the highway, and those turkeys are highly habituated to people, which means they are not really good candidates for release because if you take them somewhere else they will again hone in on people and create the same kinds of problems they were causing in the Gibson Jack area.”
Jackson said the turkeys would have likely starved had they been released in a more remote location, given recent snowy weather.
Jim Betty, a resident of the Gibson Jack area and former president of the National Wild Turkey Federation’s local chapter, disagrees with Fish and Game and its conclusion that the birds could not be relocated.
“I was very disturbed with what they did because it didn’t have to happen that way,” Betty said. “Those turkeys are no more habituated to eating from people than it’s a fact that a man lives in the moon.”
Betty added that during his tenure with the NWTF he oversaw the capture of many turkeys that had migrated to a home near Pebble Creek Ski Area in what he called “the dead of winter.” Betty said all of those turkeys were relocated to an area near Salmon, Idaho.
Moreover, Betty disputes the opinion of Fish and Game officials that the 24 turkeys were too habituated to be relocated to another less populated area, claiming instead that many of the turkeys in this flock move to lower elevations solely in the winter months in pursuit of food.
Jackson, however, contends that this particular flock of turkeys actually prefers living around people as opposed to simply foraging for food seasonally.
“These turkeys are habituated to people and possess different habits than wild turkeys in other areas,” Jackson said. “All turkeys can be found at lower elevations this time of year in Idaho because of weather and changes in food availability, but these turkeys have actually developed a comfort for living around people and structures, which is only intensified when people feed them. These turkeys have lost their fear of humans and are comfortable living in a more urban setting.”
Though regional Idaho Fish and Game officials have previously contacted NWTF officials before moving to dispatch or relocate turkeys in the region, Jackson confirmed no contact between the organizations was initiated in this instance.
“We work with our public and sportsmen’s groups on so many aspects of wildlife management, but we certainly can’t include every group, every hunter, every member of the public on every decision every time,” Jackson said.
Joe Foster, the current NWTF president, said he “doesn’t feel slighted” at all by the Fish and Game’s decision not to contact the regional NWTF chapter in this instance, adding that historically, NWTF and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game have had a positive relationship that has involved several initiatives supported or organized by both groups.
Jackson echoed Foster’s sentiments.
“We have been heavily involved with the NWTF in promoting turkey conservation and hunting in Southeast Idaho,” Jackson said. “We have been involved with numerous projects to benefit habitat, new hunters and teachers who want to bring science and curriculum into the classroom using turkeys. We have also engaged with the removal of hundreds of turkeys in the last few years and transporting them to other locations in the region.”
Despite how local citizens have reacted to the way the situation was handled, Jackson said the Fish and Game Department stands by its decision.
“We are the wildlife managers for the state and it’s our job to use our experience and knowledge to make the best decisions we can for both the wildlife resource and the public,” Jackson said. “This decision was straight forward for us, and considering the facts, was the most sound and humane option.”