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Wild turkeys walk along the fence line of a Jacksonville home near Britt Gardens. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell

Time to talk turkey

Priscilla Farrel and her neighbors in east Medford's Sun Oaks development go to great lengths to keep pesky wild turkeys from scratching up their flowerbeds and pooping on their patio furniture, but nothing seems to work.

The Farrels have a permit to squirt their garden hose on the offending fowl, even bombard them with loud noises. Some of the neighbors go as far as setting their smartphones to sound like barking dogs when they stroll the neighborhood, trying to shoo the brazen turkeys away.

"It's to no avail," Farrel says. "The turkeys don't seem to care. They find it so comfortable, they just don't want to leave."

State wildlife biologists, who normally rely on hunters to keep turkey flocks under control, have their hands tied because residents wrestling with expanding turkey populations can't shoot guns in city limits. So they are mulling an unprecedented approach in Oregon of granting a licensed wildlife-control operator a permit to trap nuisance turkeys in Rogue Valley city limits, then kill the birds and donate the meat to charities.

Licensed trappers normally called in to whisk away skunks and even rattlesnakes can't legally trap turkeys because they are listed as game birds in Oregon, with popular spring and fall hunting seasons.

A trapper with a special permit could, for a fee, set up and bait a walk-in trap to remove the offending turkeys without discharging a weapon like rural landowners can.

"Inside city limits, your options are really limited," says Rosemary Stussy, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist in White City who is considering trying the trapping route. "Turkeys drive people nuts. Everywhere they go they poop and scratch.

"I want to help people, and this is one way we can help people with somebody else doing the work," Stussy says.

If enacted here, it will be the first such permit allowing an independent trapper to tackle turkey problems in this fashion in Oregon, says Dave Budeau, who oversees ODFW's statewide game-bird management programs.

Dallas, Lebanon and several other small Oregon cities have, in conjunction with ODFW, allowed their law-enforcement officers to shoot problem turkeys within city limits, Budeau says.

In some turkey-rich places such as Douglas County, ODFW biologists trap turkeys and relocate them to other regions where turkeys already exist. While such efforts have targeted large local flocks in the past, biologists don't want to spend their time and resources doing that sort of work in every neighborhood reporting conflicts, Stussy says.

Besides, Budeau says, turkey damage within city limits is uniformly a neighborhood problem. In every nuisance turkey case Budeau's seen, the turkeys stick around because someone in that neighborhood is feeding them.

"Some people enjoy them and provide supplemental feed, and other neighbors don't share the enthusiasm for the birds," Budeau says.

Wild turkeys are a wildlife transplant success story that, at least for some, has run amok.

State wildlife biologists in 1975 shipped in crates of Rio Grande turkeys from Texas and released the birds in the foothills east of Medford in the biological equivalent of throwing spaghetti at a wall to see whether it would stick.

Unlike the Merriam's turkeys released decades before, the Rio Grande turkeys thrived in the oak savannas, eventually creating large flocks of birds that helped seed populations now present in all 36 Oregon counties.

Turkeys are one of Oregon's most problematic wild critters in residential areas, with their sharp spurs hacking up gardens and rooftops while their perpetual excrement sullies lawns and decks.

The Sun Oaks turkeys came to be like many urban intruders. Farrel says at first there were just two or three birds, but they produced 16 young turkeys, called poults, and the problems grew exponentially, she says.

"They're running around the neighborhood," Farrel says. "They've been on our lawn furniture. We like to see our wildlife around, but they've really taken off. And we know this is a problem that's bigger than our neighborhood."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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