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Friday, January 19, 2018

Michella Dey photo

Some residents upset with GPD's decision to kill turkeys

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The Glendive Police Department’s decision on Sunday to kill four juvenile turkeys which had been hanging around in town for months has ruffled the feathers of some animal-loving locals.

The four turkeys had been hanging around the businesses and residences up North Merrill Avenue north of Interstate 94 since spring. Glendive Police Chief Brad Mitchell said that the decision was made to eliminate the turkeys because they were beginning to pose a nuisance, climbing up on vehicles and buildings and causing personal property damage.

“We took care of a nuisance problem,” Mitchell said. “We actually had several complaints over a few weeks, and there was actually thousands of dollars in damage that had been done. With the vehicle damage and the damage to people’s homes, we just thought the best thing would be to get rid of them. When you’ve got guests staying at a hotel and they come out and their vehicle’s damaged (from the turkeys climbing on it), who’s going to pay for it?”

Mitchell added that the GPD “did our due diligence” by “making several phone calls” to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials to ask for their opinion and advice. He said FWP wasn’t able to give them any good options, and that as they weighed what they could do, they determined that the only cost-effective way to deal with the issue was to eliminate the turkeys altogether.

“(FWP) just really didn’t have any answer to that problem, and they said they weren’t going to relocate them either,” Mitchell said. “We looked into trapping them and we looked into different things, but the monetary expense of doing so was very large.”

Resident Brenda Witkowski, however, is one of those who feels the GPD erred in killing the turkeys, saying she doesn’t think the police really weighed all the available options.

“Everybody that was around out there thought they were cool, and they never hurt nothin’,” Witkowski said.

Witkowski also said that she interacted with a Dawson County Sheriff’s Deputy last Thursday who she said was attempting to catch the turkeys. She said after speaking with the deputy, he told her that he would give her a week to relocate the turkeys herself, which she said she had volunteered to do. Witkowski said she had a friend with some land outside of town who had offered to take the turkeys, but she said when she arrived at CC’s Cafe Sunday morning — where she spends much of her time hanging out having coffee with friends — she learned the police had killed the turkeys earlier that morning, much to her dismay.

“They didn’t give me a week (to move the turkeys), they didn’t even give me two days,” Witkowski said. “They just decided to go ahead and take care of it because a couple of people called them. They just didn’t want to try to do anything.”

Witkowski claims to be the first person to have interacted with the young turkeys when they showed up in the area this past spring, after she said the turkeys’ mother was run over and killed.

“They just came up here and had no instincts whatsoever because their mother was killed out on Belle Prairie Road,” she said.

Witkowski said the turkeys first approached her while she was throwing bread crust out on a grassy area next to CC’s, which she said she has always done to feed the sparrows and other songbirds which habituate the area. She said she became close to the turkeys as they began to frequent her daily bread crust feeding.

“If you had a piece of bread or anything like that in your hand, they’d just walk right up to you,” Witkowski said.

She also said she contacted FWP Region 7 Game Warden Brooke Johnson when the turkeys first showed up. Witkowski said Johnson warned her that feeding wildlife is illegal under Montana law, but added that since Witkowski had habitually been feeding songbirds, it would be hard to prove that she was specifically feeding the turkeys.

“So I said I’m not going to stop throwing bread out for the sparrows, and she said ‘That’s fine,’” Witkowski said.

She added that as time went on, more and more people living and working in the area began habitually feeding the turkeys.

“It wasn’t just CC’s, everybody did feed them around there,” Witkowski said.

But according to Johnson, that’s where Witkowski and everyone else who fed the turkeys went wrong.

“It’s unfortunate this situation the way it turned out, but once you start feeding animals they’re going to get habituated,” Johnson said.

She added that the GPD had full discretion to deal with the turkeys any way they saw fit, adding that she reached out to other FWP personnel for advice as well, but that with them having been fed and becoming habituated to humans, there wasn’t much of anything FWP could do with them.

“I contacted my biologist about it, and it was one of those things where there was really nothing we could do because they had become habituated,” Johnson said.

Mitchell echoed those comments.

“There were businesses that were feeding those animals and that was causing a problem itself, because you’re not supposed to feed wildlife, because in turn they can’t fend for themselves and they won’t leave,” he said.

But Witkowski still has issues with how the GPD handled the situation. She disputes that the turkeys were causing any real damage, saying she only ever once caught one sitting on top of a car at CC’s.

Johnson, however, said that even if the property damage the turkeys were causing was minimal at the time, it likely would have worsened considerably as they aged, and that they also may have started to become aggressive towards people and pets.

“It was only a matter of time before they got sexually mature and everything and then those turkeys were going to start causing more problems,” Johnson said.

Mitchell added that in doing research in how best to deal with the problem, he found that one of the last things local officials want to let them do is multiply.

“Luckily, it’s not like we had 50 to 100 of them. When we were doing our research we found a town that had like 200 (turkeys), and that was a huge financial burden and headache for that community to deal with them,” Mitchell said.

Nevertheless, Witkowski is firm in her resolve that the police should have acted differently. She said for one, a lot of people are upset about the turkeys being killed.

“I have people coming into CC’s every day asking me where the turkeys are,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who are so upset.”

Mitchell doesn’t deny that he’s had some complaints, but said that the reaction overall has been more positive.

“We actually had a lot more positive phone calls than we did negative, people thanking us for getting rid of the problem,” he said.

Mitchell said the turkeys were donated to local families in need as FWP had requested. Witkowski said she is skeptical that happened, however, saying the small size of the juvenile birds and that they were shot with a high-powered police rifle wouldn’t have left much for anyone to eat.

“You can’t tell me that four families got turkeys,” Witkowski said “You could buy a Cornish game hen and have more meat.”

She added that she will be adjusting her Thanksgiving dinner in accordance.

“In honor of them, I’m not eating turkey for Thanksgiving Day, I’m eating pork,” Witkowski said. “I just think the whole situation could have been handled differently, because they were too tame and they just didn’t know any different.”

Mitchell said that he too wishes there could have been a different solution, but said it came down to a matter of protecting the public’s property and safety.

“Unfortunately, it happened,” Mitchell said. “But it’s part of public safety.”

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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