Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife may have made a mistake in reintroducing wild turkeys to our state. I enjoy hunting them, but only 16,000 of us do that in the spring and 5,000 in the fall. And turkeys are causing lots of problems for farmers, forest landowners, and even homeowners.

A friend of mine once got a call from a lady a couple weeks before Christmas asking if he could come to her house and kill the turkeys that were eating her Christmas decorations on her deck.

Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, and I collaborated on legislation this session to expand the turkey bag limit, eliminate the permit fee, and allow online tagging. The department opposed the bill, but in the work session, we came together on an amendment to give the agency authority to expand the bag limit and hunting seasons, and schedule special turkey hunts where the birds are causing problems.

Republican Rep. Jeff Timberlake, whose family owns a large apple orchard in Turner, gave compelling testimony in favor of the bill, suggesting we should allow year-round hunting of turkeys with no bag limits. Yes, Maine farmers hate turkeys.

Jeff reported that their orchard has spent more than $250,000 putting up deer fences but turkeys just fly over them — and turkeys are very destructive. The population is growing rapidly on their farm, costing more than $1 million in crop damage each year. “They don’t like Macintosh or Cortland apples,” Jeff said. “They like Honey crest and Gala — the most valuable apples. They take a peck out of every apple and can devastate an orchard in an afternoon. And they are hard to kill. They are smart. Bringing them to the state of Maine was a terrible mistake.”

That last statement drew some discussion. While I love to hunt turkeys, I recognize the legitimacy of the argument in favor of reintroducing turkeys, which cause so many problems for farmers and woodland owners, can be challenged given how few of us hunt them.

Tom Doak, executive director of the Maine Woodland Owners, also did a good job speaking in support of the bill. “The reestablishment of wild turkeys in Maine has succeeded beyond pretty much everyone’s expectations,” Doak said. “The wild turkeys can now be found in abundance in many areas of the state, including some areas where they apparently never naturally occurred. Our support of the principles behind this bill are based on the concerns that turkeys are fast on their way of becoming nuisance wildlife in areas of the state.

“What started out as a genuine success story to be celebrated — the reestablishment of wild turkeys — has the potential, and in some cases is, turning into ‘why did we bring these birds back’ moments,” Doak said.

Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association testified, “With permit sales declining we need a real strategy to encourage increased participation from both resident and nonresident hunters. The department has not done a good job of promoting the hunt or educating potential turkey hunters and we would ask that you give them strong encouragement in that direction.”

The easiest way to do that would have been to eliminate the special turkey hunting permit and fee. That would, for example, allow our 50,000 grouse hunters to shoot a turkey if they saw one in October while hunting grouse. And really, why not?

The state is working on a new 15-year management plan for turkeys and Kleiner, a member of the Steering Committee working with the agency on this plan, said at a January meeting, “Twice this week at the Union post office I heard turkey complaints. Boy, people hate turkeys. You could sell a lot of turkey poison.” Kleiner also said, “I worry that this (plan) is not enough — that the turkey population will continue to increase and be like the goose problem.”

Doak, also a Steering Committee member, quickly responded, “We’re already at the goose problem level with turkeys!” He also requested faster ways to respond to problems that landowners are having with various big game animals.

In 2014, the Legislature enacted my proposal to reduce the turkey permit fee and expand the seasons and bag limits. The final bill in 2014 reduced the turkey hunting permit to $20 for both residents and nonresidents, with no additional fee for a second tom in the spring, expanded the fall season to the entire month of October and added a second turkey of either sex to the fall bag limit, reduced the tagging fee from $5 to $2 for each turkey (with all of the fee going to the tagging agent), extended the spring season to all-day, and authorized all-day hunting for Youth Day.

But clearly, this hasn’t been enough to solve our turkey problems. I can only hope that the state will use its new authority to increase the turkey bag limit and help farmers and other landowners resolve their problems with turkeys.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.