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On second thought, South Dakota won’t take Moorhead’s badass ‘urban’ turkeys

It turns out Moorhead’s turkey population is a bit too streetwise and ornery for South Dakota to handle.

It turns out Moorhead’s turkey population is a bit too streetwise and ornery for South Dakota to handle. Jim Williams

Moorhead, Minnesota has a problem.

The city council’s February 11 meeting minutes describe it in full: Multiple residents have complained about the “large populations of wild turkeys within city limits.”

It seems some residents made the rookie mistake of feeding the birds, and as a result, the birds kept coming back -- all the while damaging property, roosting on rooftops, acting like aggressive jerks, and pooping all over everything.

This is pretty typical behavior for a turkey. Yearling males, or “jakes,” have been known to chase pets, kids, and even adults. They’re basically the Scut Farkuses of the animal kingdom.

So the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) cut the city a deal. Moorhead would develop its own plan to manage turkeys in the future. In the meantime, the DNR would issue them trapping and relocation permits.

The plan was to capture 75 “nuisance turkeys” with the use of some corn and some “large nets deployed by rocket cannons.” Then the trappers would drop them off in eastern South Dakota, where they’d help restore the neighboring state’s flagging turkey population. Everyone wins -- unless you count the turkeys, who probably weren’t planning on getting scooped up in a rocket-launched net.

But it turns out Moorhead’s turkey population may be even a bit too streetwise and ornery for South Dakota to handle. The Pioneer Press reports that the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks had “backed out” of the deal because Moorhead’s turkeys were “too urban.”

If you’re confused about what that might mean, just check out this MnDOT traffic cam shot of a turkey blocking traffic on I-94 and truly not giving a single shit about it.

That means Moorhead is “back to the drawing board,” as City Council Member Sara Watson Curry told the Press.

At least it's not alone. The brash turkey has been a thorn in the nation’s side for at least a few years now. A 2017 article in the Washington Post spoke of them “disrupting traffic” in western New York, “terrorizing” residents in Akron, Ohio, and causing authorities in Boston to resort to “lethal force at least five times.”

These anecdotes might lead you to believe the 20-pound modern dinosaurs are swelling their ranks, becoming too numerous to contain. The opposite is true. According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, the wild turkey population has been declining slightly since 1999 (the number was about 6 million back in 2014). But thanks to the turkey’s fraught history, its range is bigger than ever before.

There was a time (around 1500) when 10 million turkeys roamed the United States and Canada. Then European settlers got a taste for them, started hunting them and destroying their habitats for good measure. By the early 20th century, there were some 200,000 remaining of that original 10 million, and they lived in only the remotest areas of 18 states. Minnesota had next to none.

The only reason turkeys are still around today is because we love to kill them so much. Wildlife managers, who knew turkeys were an incredibly popular game animal, instigated a nationwide restoration effort. Hundreds of thousands of turkeys were trapped and then released to areas with the worst turkey deficits, and decade after decade, their numbers increased. Today, you can hunt turkey in every state except Alaska. Its comeback is hailed as one of the greatest successes in wildlife conservation.

Which brings us to urban turkeys. Animals who get a massive comeback and spread out into new areas generally have little competition and lots of success.

“That’s kind of what we’re seeing in Minnesota,” biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation Matt Weegman says. “Especially in the northern parts of the state. Turkeys are moving into habitat that isn’t currently occupied.”

And the reason these tough old birds like to hang out with us is because they know we don’t hunt them on golf courses and parking lots. The deal gets sweeter, of course, when someone happens to feed them.

Moorhead is still going to pursue its new turkey management plan, and there’s still plenty more that can be done. Montana, for example, recently passed a statewide ban on feeding turkeys. Whatever they do to manage their toms and jakes, one thing is certain: South Dakota wants no part of Minnesota’s flock.