Jason Robinson, the former Upland Game Program Coordinator for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said the wild turkey comeback is one of the greatest success stories of wildlife restoration.
“In 1930, wild turkeys were almost extinct. There may have been 20,000 wild turkeys nationwide, and there was zero in Utah,” he said. “We’re not sure wild turkeys were here when the pioneers came to the valley, but we do know they were here when the Native Americans roamed the area.”
The National Turkey Federation has worked hard to restore populations across the country. They started in 1930, and by 1990 they started seeing success.
“They needed the right genetic makeup in Utah, and they found it. Now turkey numbers are growing and we still want more,” Robinson said. “The population of turkeys in Cache Valley has also grown quickly. There are about 30,000 to 40,000 in the state of Utah and about 3,000 in Cache Valley.”
Turkeys are an important part of Utah’s food chain. Turkeys, their poults, and their eggs are sought after by a list of predators. Adult toms can grow up to 20 pounds. The bird is an omnivore; they eat bugs, acorns and leftover berries, and they stir the ground, mixing things up.
However, the birds have been causing problems with some homeowners in different parts of the valley. They get into a farmer’s grain and hay, and will steal chicken feed that has been scattered by farmers. Jim Christensen, a DWR biologist, said the animals are very hungry.
“The turkeys are coming into town to find food,” he said. “Some people are feeding them, and that became a habit. Turkeys will go where the food is.”
He said the birds will seek refuge on private land and will go back to the forest and do their thing up there when winter is over and they can feed on the wilderness.
The bird population has grown to the point in Cache Valley that the DWR is trapping and moving them to the Book Cliffs, in Eastern Utah. They have also been putting collars on the turkeys to track their movements.
Nick Madsen, a DWR technician, is the one setting traps and harvesting the birds for shipment.
“It is hard for the turkeys to find food in the winter when the snow is deep,” Madsen said. “We have planted food for them, mostly plants that produce grains and seeds to keep them from getting into trouble with homeowners. “
He said they have taken birds from all across the valley.
“We have been actively trapping turkeys in Hyrum, Paradise, Avon, Clarkston, Richmond and Mendon. We take them from their cages and put them into boxes, then into a trailer,” Madsen said. “I will drive them to Ogden, another driver takes them from Ogden to Heber City, then a diver will take the cargo to the Book Cliffs to be released.”
Randall McBride, the DWR Depredation Landowner Specialist, said DWR only gets involved when wildlife has a conflict with the public.
“We are about finished trapping turkeys for the season,” he said. “We have trapped and moved over 300 turkeys in Cache Valley.”
When it comes to hunting the game birds, DWR has increased the numbers that can be taken during a season. There is both a fall season and a spring season.
Both Madsen and McBride hunt and eat the birds.
“One of the requirements of hunting, is eating the bird you harvest,” Madsen said. “My family eats them. They don’t taste the same as store bought turkeys, but we like to smoke them.”
He said there is nothing like a slice of smoked wild turkey on a piece of bread for lunch.