Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Reintroduction and Range Expansion of Eastern Wild Turkeys in Minnesota

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Reintroduction and Range Expansion of Eastern Wild Turkeys in Minnesota

Article excerpt

Extirpated from Minnesota in the late 1800s by Euro-American settlers and reintroduced in the twentieth century by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR), the eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo sylvestris) has proved remarkably successful and virtually free of controversy (Figure 1). Although James Earl Kennamer, Mary C. Kennamer, and Ron Brenneman noted other wild turkey restorations across North America in 1992, the MnDNR'S wild turkey restoration program serves as an excellent case study exemplifying North American turkey restoration efforts because it attempted to release various subspecies and pen-raised stock. It released turkeys in more northerly agricultural habitats, beyond their ancestral range where survival was uncertain. This research yielded both population and range expansion data to improve population-monitoring techniques through the use of GIS and digital cartography (Welsh and Kimmel 1990, Kimmel, Poate, and Riggs 1996). The purpose of this essay is to examine, for Minnesota, the eastern wild turkey's ancestral range, the successes and failures of various reintroduction strategies, range expansion, and the ramifications of being both indigenous and exotic where it has expanded beyond its ancestral range. We also illustrate the importance of thematic GIS maps as vehicles for depicting different degrees or perceptions of reality in a context in which a state agency, the MnDNR, has implemented a wildlife reintroduction program.

Reintroduction of wildlife has occurred for more than 100 years. Successful reintroductions to ancestral ranges often utilize trapped and transplanted parent stock from similar or identical habitats. The capability of wildlife agencies to adapt management strategies to local conditions and a species' ability to utilize existing biological corridors are crucial factors for survival and range expansion. The repopulation of black-footed ferrets in the Badlands and bighorn sheep in the Black Hills of South Dakota exemplifies these points (Mitchell 2002, 2007; Kenner 2006). A population's ability to expand, diffuse, and thrive can also be a function of its ability to adapt to habitat alterations caused by humans. The crow in eastern North America is a notable example (Gade 2010). Cultural attitudes and interventions constitute another factor that often governs the success or failure of a species which is attempting to repopulate its traditional range. Does a species receive support from a consortium of wildlife agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOS) or from some and opposition from others? For example, the controversial reintroduction of gray wolves into Arizona and New Mexico pitted federal agencies and urban-based NGOS against state agencies and local ranchers (Wilson 1999; Fitzgerald 2006). Similarly, urban-based interests in Spain supported reintroducing bears into the Pyrenees, whereas rural residents in the locality generally opposed such efforts (Vaccaro and Beltran 2009).


The reestablishment of wild turkeys to their ancestral range in Minnesota provides a case in which a broad coalition supports the species and rural-urban attitudinal differences are much more muted. Not only have wild turkeys repopulated their ancestral range; they also thrive as an exotic species in other parts of Minnesota. As such, this experience illustrates the importance of both the physical geographical factors--habitat, parent stock, biological corridors--and the cultural conditions or agents that promote survival and unite rather than divide urban versus rural attitudes toward a species.


Classified into five subspecies--eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo sylvestris), Florida wild turkey (M. g. osceola), Merriam's wild turkey (M. g. merriami), Rio Grande wild turkey (M. g. intermedia), and Gould's wild turkey (M. g. mexicana)-- wild turkeys are native to North America (Schorger 1966; Kennamer, Kennamer, and Brenneman 1992). …

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