With the arrival of warmer weather this month, Montana’s wild animals are starting to display their spring behavior. In Red Lodge, that presents an opportunity for conflicts with people.
Already officials have chased one bear out of a garbage can that was not properly latched. Not long ago, the city would have had dozens of encounters by this time of year as bears found garbage to eat in Red Lodge. But a few years ago Red Lodge businesses and homes installed bear-proof garbage cans. With no readily available food from garbage cans, bears are foraging in the forests and conflicts with people have declined dramatically.
Turkeys are another story. Though Red Lodge ordinances prohibit people from feeding wild turkeys, not everyone is cooperative. Some residents continue to leave feed outside for turkeys, in violation of the law. The result is an unnatural concentration in town.
Without artificial food sources, wild turkeys could not survive the deep snow and cold that make Red Lodge a premier destination for skiing and winter recreation. Normally they would not stay in town all winter.
The spring of 2013 saw an uncommonly good hatch of turkeys in the flock that has taken up residency in Red Lodge. Many of those birds stayed in town all winter because they found feed every day. Without artificial feed sources, they normally would disperse into more rural environs during their spring nesting season. And they would stay in the forests and fields, instead of returning to urban parks and yards, in the absence of feed thrown down by residents.
Red Lodge’s turkeys are not candidates for trapping and transplanting. Though they are considered wildlife, they are of unknown origin and appear to have strong links to domestic birds. Wildlife officials will not transplant the Red Lodge domestic genetics among the wild Merriam’s turkeys in Montana’s countryside.
Instead, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists and game wardens met recently with Red Lodge Mayor Ed Williams and agreed to participate in an education campaign to address the town’s urban turkey problem.
To best serve Red Lodge, it is in the interest of residents to heed ordinances and discontinue feeding. When the turkeys find no artificial feed, they will move to rural areas to nest and stay there as long as no feed is available in town.