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Part of Ontario’s Wild Turkey restored

Celebration of success Part of Ontario’s natural heritage restored

Following one of the most successful wildlife reintroduction programs ever, a January 19 ceremony recognized efforts of enormous benefit to Ontario’s precious ecosystem.

The ceremony at the Backus Heritage Conservation Area south of Simcoe brought out local and provincial dignitaries and hundreds of onlookers to witness a symbolic release of wild turkeys in front of a stunning granite cairn located near the first release site in Ontario. The cairn construction was initiated by O.F.A.H. Past President Russ Piper.

The release, one of hundreds that have occurred across southern and central Ontario since 1984, marked the culmination of a program initiating the comeback of wild turkeys that, since the early 1900s, had been extinct in this province.

Wild turkey reintroduction is a success story marked by devoted volunteers and extraordinary international cooperation. This natural resources legacy will benefit Ontario for generations to come, said Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters Executive Director Mike Reader, whose 83,000-member organization spearheaded the program.

Wild turkeys were an important part of Ontario’s natural biodiversity before loss of habitat and unregulated market hunting wiped out the birds. The reintroduction program, begun with 274 birds from the United States has, ultimately, resulted in over 35,000 Ontario wild turkeys today, setting the stage for further wildlife reintroduction and enhancement programs such as recent efforts to return elk to their native range in Ontario.

“Wild turkey reintroduction has increased Ontario’s biodiversity which is critical to a healthy environment. This program has generated awareness of our natural resources and encouraged habitat protection and enhancement. The spin off benefits are enormous with new opportunities for tourism and nature viewing as well as increased hunting opportunities and funding that further aids in the management of natural resources” added Mr. Reader.

Among those celebrating was O.F.A.H. Past President Russ Piper who, as O.F.A.H. President saw the wild turkey reintroduction program peak in the late 1990s. Mr. Piper was also instrumental in the effort to build the cairn which is located near the very first wild turkey release site in the province.

Also attending the Jan. 19 event were Ministry of Natural Resources Parliamentary Assistant Toby Barrett, O.F.A.H. Past Executive VP and current host of Angler & Hunter Television, Rick Morgan, O.F.A.H President, Bob Allen, M.N.R. staff, volunteers, representatives from the National Wild Turkey Federation and members of local wild turkey chapters and O.F.A.H. clubs.

Initially, Ontario swapped some of its abundant wildlife for wild turkeys coming from Vermont, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Iowa, and Missouri. In return for turkeys, Ontario otters are now living in Nebraska and Missouri, moose in Michigan and partridge in New York.

With the Ministry of Natural Resources approving and overseeing the wild turkey reintroduction program, volunteers were recruited and trained to trap wild turkeys in Ontario and initiate releases in areas identified as suitable habitat. Often, landowners and volunteers help enhance turkey habitat with tree and shrub planting programs that also benefit numerous other wildlife species.

The wild turkey program has re-established these incredible birds as a part of our natural world, and, at the same time, raised awareness of conservation issues and programs,

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