Wild turkeys were reintroduced to Maine four decades ago, mushrooming to an estimated population of 50,000 to 60,000 today.

Some folks aren’t so thrilled to have them back.

“They’re everywhere. They’re like rats,” said Patrick Chase as he worked his yard in Eliot last weekend.

“I’m 48, I never saw them when I was little. Now there are as many as 36 of them that walk through my yard each day. I know because we count them. If you sit here long enough, you’ll see them, too.”

According to a state survey released this spring, a third of Mainers feel wild turkey are too prolific and their population should be reduced.

Only half of Mainers surveyed in the statewide survey said the state does a good job managing wild turkey. More than 85 percent of Mainers strongly support hunting wild turkey. That percentage grows to 94 percent in southern and central Maine, where the birds flourish.

The state’s Big Game Management Plan, unveiled in April, reports that half of Maine residents take issue with turkeys because of “property damage and perceived negative interactions with other wildlife.”

Critics blame wild turkeys for crop depredation, such as in apple orchards or strawberry fields, said state Wildlife Biologist Kelsey Sullivan. Some farmers take exception because wild turkeys eat silage, stealing the winter feed from cows.

But Sullivan said many of these grievances are misdirected or even overblown. He said sometimes wild turkeys are blamed for problems caused by other wildlife.

“People see turkey during the day out on the landscape, and they may come in and pick up on something a deer or crow did during the night or early morning, when maybe the lawn was dug up for grubs,” Sullivan said. “Deer and crows have been there, too. But people see turkeys.”

Wild turkeys were once native to Maine but were extirpated in the early 1800s from overhunting and the clearing of forests along the coast.

But in 1978 wild turkey were reintroduced in Maine by state biologists – and the birds have thrived since.

In 1986, a limited hunt with 500 permits was established in York County. From 1992 to 2006, the hunt was expanded most years with increased permits or a larger zone.

Biologists trapped and transferred birds throughout the state, establishing regional populations. By 2006, the state established a southern Aroostook wild turkey working group to help manage the birds at the far northern end of Maine.

Today, roughly 18,000 hunters pursue wild turkey in Maine in hunts during the spring and fall, each lasting about a month. Each hunt has a bag limit of two birds.

In the towns of York and Eliot, where the birds were introduced in Maine 40 years ago, many residents take a love ’em or hate ’em stance.

“You see them hit in the road,” Chase said, “but this is Maine. We see lots of wildlife here. There’s been lynx seen near here, a lynx or a bobcat. But with the turkey, I think they should raise the limit on them in the hunt.”

Carol Morris-Scata and David Scata have a summer house on York’s Short Sands Beach, right by the ocean. As they walked Long Sands Beach last Saturday, they expressed concern.

“They are right there near the beach,” Morris-Scata said of wild turkeys. “People shouldn’t encourage them by feeding them. And you’re talking to two environmentalists who love wildlife.”

Heather Burnell of York said she can’t understand why anyone would find wild turkeys a nuisance. She stopped on her way to a Little League game with her 8-year-old son, Theo, to talk about how much they enjoy watching wild turkey.

“They are in our neighborhood a lot,” Burnell said. “I think they are cute. I enjoy showing them to my son. It’s wildlife. I think they’re cute. We used to live in New Hampshire and didn’t see them as much there, but it was more urban.”

Likewise, Kristina Sanborn grew up in York, stopped on top of Mt. Agamenticus and laughed when asked about wild turkey. Sanborn, 28, said she and her parents loved seeing wild turkey in her yard when she was growing up.

In her lifetime, they’ve always been here.

“I think they are so cute. It’s hard not to when you see their little babies running after them,” Sanborn said. “And I love wildlife. So wildlife doesn’t bother me.”

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: FlemingPph

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