Much higher turkey harvests and more public support called for in new plan

Here’s one of the most significant statements in the new Turkey management plan: “Population management should include steps to substantially increase turkey harvest in WMDs that are experiencing significant public complaints, with the goal of reducing population size to socially acceptable levels.”

Yup, we need to kill more turkeys. The plan notes that after several decades of population growth and expansion, Maine’s wild turkey population is now distributed nearly statewide, and most suitable habitats in southern and central Maine are fully occupied. Over the next 10 years the department will need to shift its focus from facilitating turkey population growth to managing an abundant, established resource.

This is my fourth report on DIFW’s new big game management plans.

The Department’s first goal is to maintain a healthy sustainable turkey population. They recognize that they need to develop and implement reliable methods to monitor those populations and improve the quality and availability of turkey harvest data. In WMDs 15-17, 20-26, and 28 they want to stabilize while turkey populations below biological carrying capacity and at socially acceptable levels. In WMDs 1-14, 18, 19, and 27, they want to increase the size and distribution of turkey populations.

The plan includes a variety of management strategies, policies, and regulations to achieve these goals. I think one of their management goals, ensuring public satisfaction with the turkey population, will be especially challenging. The plan reports that “improving public satisfaction with turkeys will depend on effective, targeted conflict response programs, as well as public education programs. Ongoing public surveys will also be required to assess public attitudes towards turkeys.”

Among the strategies for achieving this goal are these: to authorize the department to establish special turkey hunts in municipalities with hyper abundant turkey populations, continue to authorize landowners to kill turkeys where other approaches are ineffective, and strengthen the relationship with the Main Cooperative Extension, Main Farm Bureau, and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and other partners to provide information to farmers and landowners on methods to reduce conflicts with wild turkeys. This latter strategy is recognized as a high priority.

I also think the third management goal will be challenging: “increasing the recreational value of the wild turkey resource by promoting participation and wild turkey hunting.” Only 15,000 residents and 1000 nonresidents purchase turkey permits each year and hunt in the spring. Only about 5000 hunt in the fall. And I think it’s unlikely they’re going to substantially increase those numbers. One of the strategies is to explore ways to encourage Canadian maritime hunters to hunt turkeys in Maine.

I think the fourth goal is a good one, providing education to Maine residents (including hunters) on turkey biology, ecology, and management. They will provide the public with information about the impacts of turkeys on forest regeneration, the relationships between turkeys and other species, and the relationship between turkeys and ticks.

In a section of the plan titled expected outcomes, the agency reports that the new plan will require adequate staffing, funding, and public support. In this section they establish specific goals such as “the percentage of the general public that feels turkey populations should remain the same in the area where they live increases to 70% by 2022.” They also hope to expand hunter participation by adults to 20,000 by 2027 and get 3000 youth hunters participating that same year.

The department’s turkey subcommittee that worked with DIFW staff to create this plan included Kelsey Sullivan, chair, Mark Caron, Dave Chabot, Bob Cordes, and Jim Wescott. We should all thank them for their effort.

My next report on the big game management plan will focus on deer.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.