Although not a new story, the restoration of wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) in this state and nation is an incredible conservation success story and one that is worth retelling. This, especially as we prepare to celebrate its historical significance by dining on its domestic counterpart, Meleagris Butterballis. We must confess, we borrowed the “Butterball” reference from a 2012 blog by Bonny Wolf appearing on the NPR site the salt which is worth the read.
Many are aware of the fact that Benjamin Franklin declared his admiration of the wild turkey near the time that the bald eagle was being advanced as our national symbol. Although found in great abundance at that time, turkey numbers fell into steady decline to a point where by 1930, only an estimated 30,000 remained nationally.
Although not native to northern Michigan, the last of Michigan’s original wild turkey are believed to have been extirpated by 1900. Multiple reintroduction efforts failed in Michigan and it wasn’t until the mid-1950’s when turkeys were acquired from Pennsylvania by the Michigan Department of Conservation that the roots of today’s recovery took hold.
According to a past MDNR website post, “within a decade, an estimated 2,000 turkeys ranged freely in Michigan. In 1965, Michigan held its first fall turkey hunting season in Allegan County. By 1968, spring turkey hunting was established in selected northern Michigan areas and spring soon became the primary season for Michigan turkey hunting.”
“By 2000, wild turkey populations were considered fully restored in Michigan. Today, the state boasts a population in excess of 200,000 birds which is more than twice as many as existed in pre-settlement times, and wild turkeys can be found in nearly all of the state’s 83 counties, absent only in some places in the Upper Peninsula.” As of 2011, the most abundant of the six wild turkey subspecies (the eastern) have an estimated population in excess of five million.
There is little question that our increasingly mild northern Michigan winters have these birds surviving in areas which had previously been beyond their historically native range. Combine this with the efforts of state and national wild turkey organizations such as NWTF, and the far more conducive habitat which can now be found throughout most areas of northern Michigan, and the result is one of Michigan’s great wildlife restoration success stories. More information can also be found through the State Chapter of the NWTF.
So, as we give thanks this season for all of our personal and national blessings, let’s take a moment and recall another of those wildlife species whose recovery is tied directly to the program funding and volunteer efforts provided by this nation’s hunters and anglers.