This article contains two parts that lead to the bottom line. A serious problem was found when in December 1982, 30 dead Canada Geese were found on a golf course in Oakland County that died from the use of zinc phosphide, a deadly poison used for rodent control. Then in June 1983, 10 dead squirrels were found that had been killed by the same poison on the grounds of a VA hospital in Calhoun County. Then from 1986 to the end of 1987, Wild Turkeys killed by zinc phosphide were found in Grand Traverse, Wexford, Benzie, Missaukee, Leelanau and Manistee Counties. With the exception of Oakland and Calhoun Counties, the rest all are in the Pere Marquette Chapter area.
Zinc phosphide is a very toxic poison. It is treated with grain and used by Christmas tree growers and orchards to control rodents, such as mice and voles, who have a habit of eating the bark of a tree, during winter, killing it. The approved method was broadcasting the poison. In order to purchase and use zinc phosphide, one has to have a license. In 1987 two poisoned fox were found in Grand Traverse County, having died from secondary poisoning from eating dead mice.
The few birds and animals found were but the proverbial drop in the bucket. For every thousand poisoned songbirds, what are the odds of finding just one? If a flock of 50 turkeys consumed the poison grain, what are the odds later of finding just one?
To their credit, our local DNR biologists as well as Karl Hosford, chief of the DNR Wildlife Division were very concerned and were dealing with the problem. The Michigan Department of Agriculture is the agency which controls the licensing and regulations regarding the use of poisons. A series of contacts from the DNR to AG were made.
That the Christmas tree and orchard owners were still being allowed to poison thousands of birds and animals was just plain nuts. On 5/29/88 a letter from the Pere Marquette Chapter was sent to Paul Kindinger the director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture. We listed the problem, asked a number of questions of why they were dragging their feet in the sand and not correcting this serious problem. As with the DNR we wanted broadcasting discontinued and to use approved “T Feeders,” (they are made from plastic pipe and designed so grain does not reach the ground). On 6/7/88, a letter of reply was received from Director Kindinger. He indicated that his department was working with the applicators to resolve the issue. He advised that they were assessing the risks and benefits of the use of zinc phosphide as a rodenticide.
As I researched information for this article the following was obtained from news media sources and a front page article that appeared on the front page of the December 7, 1991 issue of the Cadillac Evening News. In the period of 1989 – 1990 our local DNR Wildlife Division biologist became concerned over the lower than normal turkey population in an area between Manton and Mesick in Wexford County. That area has numerous Christmas tree farms and there was a concern by the biologists that the use of zinc phosphide may be the cause.
The news article began by saying “A nine-month study of a Wexford County turkey flock has turned up POACHING as the primary cause for the bird’s disappearance.” Professor Bruce Beetley of the Biology Department at Ferris State University in Big Rapids was contacted. A $62,000 grant was obtained from the federal government for a two-year study by the university for the Michigan DNR.
During December 1990, 46 Wild Turkeys were trapped in Lake County and relocated in two townships in Wexford County, both containing Christmas tree farms. The turkeys were fitted with electronic transmitters. Each week students from the university spent three days in the release areas with their tracking equipment, with the exception of the firearm deer season.
Since the end of August, 33 of the original 46 turkeys were dead. Of 18 carcasses recovered and sent to the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory, none showed signs of zinc phosphide poisoning. This was the good news that showed that our efforts to control the use of the poison was paying off. Nine turkeys were confirmed as being taken by poachers, five turkeys were unaccounted for, having lost their signal, additional poaching was suspected. Eleven turkeys were killed by predators, three from natural causes, two from starvation, two from legal hunting and one by a car. In five more cases cause of death could not be determined. Seventy-two percent of the turkeys had not survived one year.
Professor Beetley advised that he was very surprised and disappointed at the findings. “The number of suspected poaching cases was alarming,” he said.
Just a short time before the study we had initiated and obtained legislation that dictates the most severe penalties for poaching all game birds and animals within our nation. The study revealed that there are still ignorant, greedy people who would blow our Wild Turkeys back into extinction.
I contacted the DNR Upland Bird Specialist to obtain the results of the entire two-year study. He advised that the DNR did not have it. DID NOT HAVE IT? Here was a study, perhaps the only one of its kind. It was conducted for the DNR. Did they shred it or perhaps throw it in the garbage? So much for Sound Science.
Accolades go out to both the local DNR biologists and the DNR management for taking action both the zinc phosphide and disappearing turkeys issues. Fast forward several decades. The Wild Turkey population in the Mio—Fairview (Wild Turkey Capitol of Michigan) has crashed. No mention of it by the DNR, no studies to determine why, and no effort to correct the situation.
Priorities sure have changed — haven’t they?