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Moorhead close to formal ban on feeding wild turkeys

A fed turkey is a dead turkey
Penny the turkey in Bloomington was shot by the Minnesota DNR after residents continued to feed him, causing him to grow too comfortable with humans, the DNR said. 

Penny the turkey in Bloomington was shot by the Minnesota DNR after residents continued to feed him, causing him to grow too comfortable with humans, the DNR said. 

Nearly a year since residents packed a public meeting to debate the future of wild turkeys in Moorhead, the city is one step closer to enforcing a key part of its master plan: a ban against feeding the animals. 

The city already has a ban on feeding all wildlife, but in light of the city's growing population of at least 158 turkeys (per a drone flyover last year), the city council wants to add language specifying that feeding turkeys is forbidden. It unanimously passed the first reading of the proposal at its meeting Monday. 

Feeding turkeys causes the animals more harm than good, officers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources told Bring Me The News last month in light of the agency shooting Bloomington's turkey celebrity, Penny. Once the turkeys become accustomed to humans, they are more likely to approach them for food. 

"The bird might come up to people for a handout and the people might think it's trying to scare them or chase them," Minnesota DNR area wildlife manager Scott Noland said at the time. "That's why we say, don't feed the turkeys." 

As in Penny's case, if a turkey repeatedly refuses to back down from humans, the animal is considered aggressive, Noland said. And because the Minnesota DNR doesn't recommend relocating animals, a fed turkey is likely to be a dead turkey, as the conservation adage goes

There is "plenty of feed for the turkeys along the river corridor," City Council member Sara Watson Curry said in supporting the ban. "This won't harm the turkeys, but will protect their wild beauty."

Once the ban is approved, violations would eventually result in a misdemeanor, but law enforcement plans to begin with an education approach, Deputy Police Chief Tory Jacobson told Inforum

A 16-page master plan

The ban is just one part of the city's 16-page master plan, pending approval from the Minnesota DNR. Notably, the city's plan suggests possible relocation, which is something the department has said it is shifting away from. Because the DNR holds statewide authority over the turkeys as a game animal, the plan will have to be approved by the agency before it becomes officially. 

Other ideas for dissuading turkeys from particular areas include: using pyrotechnic devices "such as flares, bangers, cracker," using trained dogs for  "non-lethal hazing," planting coyote and dog decoys and adding spikes to common roost areas. 

As the city looks to control the population, it also recommends in its plan to oil eggs to prevent them from hatching. 

Monday's small step is part of a years long saga. In spring 2019, the the city council approved a plan to obtain a Minnesota DNR permit to relocate 75 turkeys to South Dakota, but the state's Department of Game, Fish and Parks backed out of the deal, deeming the turkeys "too urban." 

Before the pandemic prevented us from doing things like fighting over turkeys at a public hearing, 70 people gathered to listen and share their turkey tales last January

Some expressed disgust with the high turkey population, while others described them as friends. 

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Brett Bernarth said he suspected his neighbors were feeding turkeys, causing 20 to 30 of them to roost in a tree in his backyard, leaving a mess. 

"I cannot in a kind way describe the filth we live with,” he said. "I cannot walk in and out of my house through my doors without tramping through piles,” he said. “You could swab my shoes right now: I'm covered in filth. My house is covered in filth. My pets eat and roll in it. My child plays in it."

But some residents, like Zenas Baer, said the issues are manageable. 

"I have many, many turkeys as my friends. I call them my friends. They are my neighbors, they are fellow living creatures,” Baer said. “And we should learn to live in harmony with life forms rather than in opposition to, conquering, killing and controlling.”

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