The Methow’s wild turkeys may need some trimming
By Ashley Ahearn
They huddle in the trees along the river in Winthrop, or saunter across Highway 20 in Twisp, blocking traffic and staring down motorists.
They are the Methow Valley (semi)-wild turkeys. A group that some residents have come to see as no more than a be-wattled street gang bent on destroying gardens up and down the valley.
“Once they figure there’s good stuff at your place then you get added on their little roadmap,” said Sue Elson, who has lived on the Twisp-Carlton road for 30 years.
The turkeys show up in flocks of up to 22 on Elson’s property, pooping on her picnic table, scuffing up her garden, pecking holes in her trees and eating her fruit. Three years ago a mother turkey and her two chicks figured out how to get between the strands of electric fence that surround Elson’s garden.
“I had a row of blueberries staked down under cloth and the kids got under the cloth and ate all my blueberries while the mom watched from the outside,” Elson said.
Turkeys are not native to the Methow Valley. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) introduced them to the Okanogan Valley years ago and they eventually made the journey over Loup Loup pass to inhabit the Methow.
However, Scott Fitkin, Okanogan District biologist with WDFW, said the turkeys in Twisp and Winthrop were likely released by an individual on private land and then received supplemental feeding, which helped them survive the cold winters here. Turkeys do not do well in cold and a tough winter will knock the population back, Fitkin said. However, it’s been a while since the Methow saw a long, cold winter.
“Winters tend to start a little later now. We don’t get as much early snow and the overall season is a little shorter and that benefits turkeys,” Fitkin said.
And so the population has grown over the recent decades. Methow residents report turkey sightings and property destruction from Carlton to Winthrop, with large clusters up the Twisp River road.
“My own concern, in several areas and at this time in upper Twisp River near Buttermilk junction, has to do with the common problems from introduced and non-native species and disruption of a functional native ecosystem,” Susan Crampton wrote in an email to the Methow Valley News.
Time to change the rules?
There’s currently a spring general season in Washington state from April 15-May 31, which means that anyone can get a license and buy tags to kill up to two male turkeys. There is also a fall permit season, for which 50 statewide permits are issued for male and female turkeys during the period from Nov. 15-Dec. 15.
“It’s designed as a recreational opportunity, not a control hunt,” Fitkin said. “One of the limitations with the fall permit season is people put in for those permits all over the state so they may not know where turkeys are locally. So we don’t get a lot of harvest for the permit season.”
Fitkin said he’s going to push for a fall general season for male and female turkeys in the Methow Valley but that he doesn’t anticipate that happening until the fall of 2020.
WDFW does issue some damage permits for property owners with nuisance turkeys. Contact Ellen Heilhecker at WDFW to get one.
There are some non-lethal options when it comes to getting rid of turkeys on your property. Loud music or talk radio can scare them off, though it could also be a nuisance for your neighbors.
“That depends on the kind of talk radio,” Fitkin said, chuckling.
Turkeys are omnivores and will eat any scraps or pet food that is left out. Keeping food safely contained is a key step, as well as fencing in gardens — and even enclosing them from the top so the turkeys can’t fly in.
“I advise not feeding wildlife in general and turkeys are included in that,” Fitkin said. “If you want to feed songbirds in the winter and hummingbirds in the summer I’m all for that, but beyond that, I recommend not feeding wildlife. Don’t feed deer. Don’t feed turkeys.”
Fitkin made it clear that he is not a proponent of dogs chasing wildlife; however, if the dog stays on your property when chasing off turkeys it can be an effective deterrent. Or, you could use your ride-along mower, as Sue Elson discovered.
“One year I was out riding my mower and they showed up and I put it in high gear and took off my coat and swung it around my head,” Elson said.
That got rid of them for a little while she said, but eventually, the birds came back.