Poisoned: 200 turkeys dead in Oconto Co.

Green Bay, Wis. – Why would anyone intentionally poison hundreds
of wild turkeys?

That was the burning question on the minds of thousands of
hunters after the DNR said Feb. 6 that approximately 200 turkey
carcasses were found in a wooded area near a farm in north-central
Oconto County.

Northeast Region Warden Supervisor Byron Goetsch said a citizen
tip to the law enforcement hotline – made Jan. 29 at 5:30 p.m. –
led wardens to the area.

Goetsch said the responsible party has been identified and could
face charges ranging from civil to criminal. In addition, statutory
restitution surcharges of $175 per turkey could be assessed by the

“It could be anywhere from a civil forfeiture or violation for
poisoning wildlife on up to a criminal penalty for any number of
violations,” Goetsch said last week. “As in any investigation,
things need to be wrapped up before we finalize it.”

Oconto County District Attorney Jay Conley said Feb. 10 he
expected he’d get the case “sooner than later” to review it.

“I’ll have to see what they’ve got, what evidence they’ve got,
and what laws have been violated,” Conley said.

With wardens and the D.A. tight-lipped on pending charges, many
hunters interested in the case turned to the information
superhighway – the Internet – for possible answers.

Some anonymous posters on hunting message boards claimed the
responsible party was a farmer fed up with crop losses; another
said he heard the birds were defecating on cattle feed and making
livestock sick.

Goetsch and Conley would not confirm or deny rumors that it was
a farmer who poisoned the birds.

Goetsch did say that, initially, wardens weren’t sure if the
turkeys died from natural causes. Samples were sent to the state’s
wildlife health lab in Madison for testing and quickly confirmed
that the birds had consumed poison.

“It was a poison mixed within baited material,” Goetsch said.
“Based on the type of poison we’re confident was used, we don’t
think there’s any reason to believe that most other wildlife was

Goetsch said a couple crows were found dead, but he wasn’t sure
if it was from consuming the poisoned material.

“We collected all of the carcasses we could find, and did an
aerial survey,” Goetsch said. “We’re confident we collected most of
the animals.”

The turkeys were in varying stages of being consumed by
predators and scavengers – anywhere from just bones and wing
feathers to whole carcasses.

During the aerial survey, many live turkeys were seen.

“As far as we can tell, at least it didn’t wipe out the local
population,” Goetsch said.

Goetsch said the string of wildlife deaths this winter in the
Northeast Region – deer and ducks run over by snowmobilers, and now
this – were all fairly rare and isolated incidences.

“It’s disheartening,” Goetsch said. “I’m just wondering what’s
next? It certainly doesn’t reflect the views of the people up

The carcasses were found beneath a stand of red pines, likely a
roosting area. Goetsch said he had no idea how long it would take a
turkey to die from the poison, which he said was largely dependent
on the quantity ingested.

“This time of year wildlife congregates, and certainly know
where the food sources are,” he said. “They’re vulnerable,
especially with a contaminated food source.”

Wardens continue to monitor the area and have enlisted the help
of neighboring landowners.

“Without a citizen tip, we probably wouldn’t have known about
this,” Goetsch said. “It’s just fortunate somebody saw some dead
birds along the road and called.”

Goetsch said the suspect was cooperating in the

“I’m hoping in the next week or so to sit down with the D.A. and
move forward on this case,” he said.

Meanwhile, long-time Oconto County hunter Wade Jeske, owner of
Lena Swamp Archery and chairman of the county’s Conservation
Congress membership, said turkey hunters are sickened by the

Jeske said turkeys are sometimes viewed as little more than a
scavenger stealing corn by deer hunters who use bait. He’d like to
see state organizations that have anything to do with wild turkeys
to support a ban on deer baiting.

Jeske said he’s been starting to see a division among

“There are deer baiters who hate turkeys, and turkey hunters who
don’t bait who are sick of turkey hunters shooting turkeys off
baits,” he said.

Dean Hamilton, the Wisconsin state president of the National
Wild Turkey Federation, said in a press release that “the landowner
undid years of work by conservation organizations, volunteers, and
the DNR; robbed hunters of hunting opportunities; decreased the
chances for wildlife-watchers to see these majestic game birds; and
damaged the area’s wild turkey population for the foreseeable

Hamilton also noted that because large flocks of turkeys often
are seen in fields during the day, they are blamed for destroying

“But multiple studies have shown that turkeys eat mainly insects
and that raccoons, deer, and squirrels most often damage crops
after turkeys have roosted in trees for the night,” he said.

Casey Langan, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s director of
public relations, said the group’s policy urges that daily bag
limits be increased and more permits be issued to reduce turkey,
deer, goose, and bear populations.

“Specifically, we also support an earn-a-gobbler season for
turkeys,” Langan said.

Langan said the Farm Bureau also supports counter sales for
turkey tags, and that farmers should be issued a free turkey, deer,
and bear license and that the license be an open-season license to
be used on the landowner’s property.

Jeske said the DNR is liberal about giving out ag damage

“That’s one thing that’s so frustrating for hunters, if that
does turn out to be the case (that the turkeys were poisoned by a
farmer),” he said. “They could have helped. The way it happened,
it’s such a waste.”

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