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Biologist: Lethally removing Pilot Rock turkeys is way to go

PENDLETON — Pilot Rock city leaders heard two choices for dealing with the town's growing population of turkeys: Harass the birds or kill them.

The surest method, state wildlife biologist Greg Rimbach said, is killing them.

Rimbach, of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, addressed the city council during its meeting Tuesday night. He said Pilot Rock residents have complained to him about the local turkey population, which has fattened up like a bird for Thanksgiving dinner over the last few years. Residents estimated there are more than 60 turkeys around the town most of each day.

"I think the biggest problem is turkey scat on cars, roofs and decks," he said, also noting that the birds tend to damage property in other ways too.

So what to do about it?

Hazing turkeys can be effective, he said, if the harassment outweighs than the benefits they get from being in town — namely food and places to roost at night.

"And right now, there is no hazing and the food is great," he said.

Scaring off the birds from one place won't matter much, he added, if the house two doors down is feeding them.

"So what my thinking on it is, we need to lethally remove the turkeys," Rimbach said.

That recommendation created a moment of silence, and city staff double-checked to make sure he said "lethally."

He had.

"I know it doesn't sound nice," he said. "But lethally removing turkeys is the way to go."

Turkeys are smart, Rimbach continued, and killing a few might be enough for the rest to catch a clue and move on.

That action would require property owners to secure a permit from ODFW. Rimbach also said one or two permitted city employees could take on the task. They also would have to clean the birds and provide the meat to organizations, such as a church, to distribute to people in need.

Rimbach said some methods of killing are "more socially acceptable" than others. ODFW, for example, would not be OK with someone going after the birds with a baseball bat. He suggested a .22-caliber gun would be best, but shooting in town would be too risky.

Bill Caldera, the city police chief, agreed that shooting into trees to kill turkeys would not be safe.

Rimbach noted that trapping would not work in the city because the department uses rocket nets or cannon nets. If one went astray, he said, that's a 10-pound bullet flying around.

Six Pilot Rock residents attended the meeting. Pam and Don Fisher said the turkey population on their property has grown from about 20 birds three years ago to 66. Pam Fisher described mounds of turkey scat two and three feet tall where the birds gather. Others in the small audience said they were fed up with the fowls fouling their railings and decks.

One woman asked about poisoning the birds, and another person asked about relocating them.

Rimbach cautioned against poison. He said there are poisons for specific breeds of birds, but he did not know if there was one just for turkeys. Before the state can issue a kill permit, he said, the city needs to prohibit feeding turkeys. That local law provides the legal backbone for the lethal action. He provided the council with ODFW guidelines for dealing with turkeys and examples of ordinances from some Oregon cities. Porter said she would pass that information to the council to discuss at the next meeting.

Until then, Rimbach said, there was nothing stopping the city or property owners from obtaining a permit to haze the turkeys.

"We give them out like Tic Tacs," he said.

Wild tom turkeys stand in a yard off of Northwest Elder Street in Pilot Rock in September. [E.J. Harris/The East Oregonian via AP]