Biodiversity Goes Turkey!
Ontario's Cavalier Wild Turkey Program Challenged
Toronto February 13, 2003: The Peaceful Parks Coalition has asked for a Full Environmental Assessment of the Ontario government's program to introduce wild turkeys well outside of their historical range. Wild turkeys are a prized game bird for sport hunters.
This program is sweeping across the province and is moving forward with little or no public notification. Introductions are scheduled as far north as Sault Ste Marie.
Extirpated in the early 1900s because of over hunting and loss of habitat, the Ontario government began re-introducing wild turkeys back into their home range of southern Ontario in 1984. The program has been very successful and there are now over 30,000 wild turkeys in Ontario. The first priority of the program was to bring back an extirpated native species for the sake of biodiversity. But since then that aim has been corroded to promote a hunting agenda.
Our concerns are:
- Since wild turkeys did not evolve with the local plants and animals outside of their historical range, forced introductions into these ecoregions is in fact introducing a non-native species.
- Wild turkeys are large birds adding further pressures on local food sources. They are opportunistic feeders and could out compete other wildlife for food and habitat. In order for these birds to find their own niche, other wildlife would be displaced. This could contribute to the local extinction of another species.
- Species often move into new ecoregions as climate and biodiversity permit. It is a natural process. However facilitating this process through forced introductions is not a natural process, and therefore could have unforeseen ecological consequences. · The government claims northern regions are now suitable to sustain wild turkey populations because of landscape conversion attributed to deforestation, agricultural and climate change. However there is great concern globally regarding the rapid shift in landscape ecology caused by human development. Landscape conversion is associated with the loss of biodiversity because it is a simplification of native ecosystems. It is not the government's role to contribute to the further decline of biodiversity and impede future restoration efforts.
- In 1999 the Ontario government initiated an experimental release of wild turkeys in the Sudbury region to test their survival in marginal habitat. Many of the wild turkeys released became emaciated from the lack of winter food sources and deep snow and died. The mortality rate of transmitted birds was 92% -100%.
- The final report concluded that populations of wild turkeys are not likely to persist at this latitude without rigorous winter habitat improvement. Supplemental feeding may be the only means of maintaining viable turkey numbers throughout very severe winters.
- According to government data, local hunting groups are engaging in landscape manipulation by planting trees and shrubs likely to produce food for wild turkeys. This could result in a southern landscape being re-created in northern regions.
- It has been suggested controlling predators to encourage the propagation of wild turkeys. This can easily happen without government approval or public notification because in Ontario predators have zero protection. There are currently no limits as to how many wolves, coyotes, raccoons or foxes one can kill.
"This program is cavalier at best, and a big waste of taxpayer's money. Wild turkeys are already colonizing their native home range in southern Ontario. The government should just leave these birds alone and let them settle and adapt, and find their own northern limit - naturally," says AnnaMaria Valastro of the Peaceful Parks Coalition.