Turkey Rafter

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Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) Photo: Donald M. Jones

Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)
Photo: Donald M. Jones

The wild turkey is a conservationist success story. Almost extinct at the beginning of the 20th century due to hunting and habitat loss, the wild turkey is now present in most states of the United States.

What saved the turkey was a combination of federal legislative intervention and cooperation between conservationists and hunters.

The introduction of the Pittman-Robertson Act (also known as the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act) in 1937 created a federal excise tax on gun and ammunition sales collected from manufacturers and, rather than streaming that revenue into the general federal tax coffers, allocated that revenue to a federal fund that supported state habitat and wildlife conservation efforts.

This Act, which came into effect in 1937 under Franklin D. Roosevelt, has generated billions of dollars for conservation. It has been frequently modified, and it is still in effect today.

Wild turkey in flight. Unlike the domesticated turkeys, wild turkeys are good fliers and roost in trees. Photo: S. Matull/MendonomaSightings

Wild turkey in flight. Unlike the domesticated turkeys, wild turkeys are good fliers and roost in trees.
Photo: S. Matull/MendonomaSightings

Yet it was only in 1956 that things really turned around for the wild turkey.

Domestically raised wild turkeys did not thrive in initial reintroduction efforts, but researchers devised a system of catching wild turkeys and redistributing them to other areas. The wild turkeys, collectively known as a rafter rather than a flock, are common enough in some areas to be considered a nuisance.

Would the wild turkey have fared so well if it didn’t have such iconic status in the United States? After all, before the bald eagle won the day, the wild turkey was Benjamin Franklin’s choice of national symbol for its courage and intelligence.

In any case, the wild turkey is a positive symbol of what can be achieved when the stars align for an endangered species.

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