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Nature Conservancy slaughtering wild turkeys on Santa Cruz

For at least 50 years there have been wild turkeys on Santa Cruz Island. Unlike wild hogs that are not native to North America, no one has been able to document any environmental problems introduced - or perhaps more correctly - "reintroduced" populations of wild turkey have created for native species. None. There's wild, knee-jerk speculation, but no science.

But apparently that isn't stopping the Nature Conservancy from contracting with a wildlife control company to slaughter all of the 1,000 of so wild turkeys on Santa Cruz Island, according to Steve Smith with the California Bowman Hunters. Smith said the slaughter apparently began this past week.

This is more biased science adopted as policy. A policy gone astray. Because there were no turkeys on Santa Cruz since the last ice age, apparently there shouldn't be any. That's the Nature Conservancy's scientists' belief. I can understand removing wild hogs, which root up the landscape and decimate native plant and invertebrate populations that didn't evolve with them. But the desire to rid the Channel Islands of all things non-native for the last 500 to 1,000 years doesn't make sense.

Especially not turkeys. Turkey bones are one of the most common things found in the La Brea tar pits, having lived in and evolved with all of the plants and animals that currently live here. Turkeys are native. The fact that they didn't make it through the last cold snap is no reason we can't have them back in this habitat. We just need to get the Nature Conservancy and National Park Service to buy in.

So here's the argument: The last ice age probably was man-made anyway. It happened about the time the human population was booming, and our ancestors probably ran too many herds of mastodon and bison off cliffs, drastically reducing the amount of methane and carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. That in turn, reduced greenhouse gases, causing the cooling that led to the ice age. If we were really the good stewards we claim, we should try to restore the environment to pre-ice age times, trying to bring back many of the animals that went extinct here because the early man-caused ice age.

Turkeys for example. They were everywhere here in Southern California and our offshore islands. Let's put them back - or better, let's leave alone the ones that have already been put back.

And if someone can figure out how to re-create saber tooth cats from DNA, I'm all for that, too. And the deer and elk on Santa Rosa Island, that our two Senators in Washington, D.C., want to slaughter, they are probably a darn close genetic match to animals that once roamed on that island in recent times. Let's leave them, too. It makes as much sense as trying to get rid of them - more sense even, since they're already there and not causing problems. None. Zero. Zip. People can enjoy seeing these pre-ice age relics, and the Conservancy can save all that money they're spending on killing the birds - and want to spend on wiping out deer and elk.

But we've left the loonies in charge of the asylum.


A relative of a friend was drawn for one of the handful of bighorn sheep tags issued for California. Something like 10,000 of us apply for these tags each year, facing 1-in-800 to 1,000 odds. The 15 or so bighorn tags issued cost residents $300, non-residents $500, and an auction tag brings in $50,000 to $80,000. For these hunters, the DFG staff hosts a wonderful seminar on sheep hunting. They provide them with a ream of information. Give out cell phone numbers of wardens and biologists so these hunters can contact them anytime. All of the sheep populations in the state are surveyed rigorously by helicopter. DFG staff and volunteers count sheep in the heat of summer at water sources, carefully tabulating every ram, every lamb, and every ewe. I'd bet every bighorn in California has been spied by human eyes.

I'm not complaining about any of this. All of this is what the DFG should do. The problem is the agency also should have this kind of management for deer and quail and chukar. It should do it for trout and catfish. But especially deer.

Most deer herds in Southern California are not surveyed with any thoroughness. Hunters aren't given any guidance on how to judge a quality deer, where to hunt them, or information on where to contact DFG staff if they have questions or problems.

There's never been a D14 deer hunting seminar, and there were 2,800 tags issued for this zone at $20 (or more) a pop last year. Statewide, there were nearly 180,000 deer tags sold. Do the math on sheep tag money versus deer tag money. I won't say the DFG spends more on sheep surveys than deer surveys and research, but I'd bet it's close. Again, I'm not saying the DFG spends too much on bighorn sheep. I'm saying deer - and just about every other game animal - are comparatively neglected.

But it could be worse. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has spent something more than $40 million to grow the California condor population from 22 in 1982 to something over 300 today, losing nearly another 50 birds along the way. That's an investment of something like $115,000 per bird, which probably is conservative, especially if you add in state and private money spent on condors.

However you cut it, my friends, that is a horrible return on investment. So our DFG's sheep expenditures can seem downright paltry, and what we spend on deer is a joke.

And why do condors get so much more attention than desert pupfish? While I'm not sure what needs to be questioned here, I know for certain the answer is wrong. Money is allocated based on bias and politics with no regard to need or value, or even an attempt to define those two things and how they relate to each other in our stewardship of wildlife.


You'd think the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was now the great caretaker of wildlife and fisheries by all the hoopla over last week's valve-turning on the Los Angeles Aqueduct that allowed a tiny fraction of the water stolen from the Owens Valley to flow back into the Owens River. History knows better.

Not only did the LADWP drag it's feet on this restoration, delaying the rewatering two years after a court order, but it has continued to defy and warp other court orders because it's behemoth legal staff simply wears out and outlives volunteer attorneys, budgets, and judges. So the rewatering of the last dry stretch of the Owens River comes with a sigh -- a sigh of frustration that it took so long to do what should have been done decades ago when the Los Angeles Aqueduct was first constructed.

Some of us are still holding our breath on this latest "victory" for fisheries and wildlife. Why? Deja vu.

Jim Matthews' outdoors column apears on Friday.

He can be reached at odwriter@earthlink.net



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