This past fall DNR conservation officer Andrea Alberta was the guest speaker at the Bellaire Conservation Club. She informed the club that there was a need for an updated mechanical turkey decoy that it would be shared with conservation officers throughout northern Michigan. The cost of purchasing this decoy was $1,800. The conservation club advised that would contribute $700 if a source of the remaining funding could be found. Fellow member Linda Gallagher contacted our Pere Marquette Chapter to see if a possible contribution could be made. The Traverse Bay Chapter and Pere Marquette Chapter contributed $1,100 for the purchase.

That we contributed to the purchase of a turkey decoy is but a continuation of the action taken since the very beginning of our chapters. The following is but one of many actions taken in our attempt to ensure that the experiment to re-introduce the Wild Turkey to Michigan after disappearing by 1900 and to secure ethical, quality hunting of them. The DNR’s effort to introduce the Sichuan Pheasant and the Hungarian Partridge have both failed. We were determined that the Wild Turkey would succeed.

I feel very fortunate to have served with the Michigan State Police for thirty-one years. I was stationed at the Reed City Post in Osceola County from 1966 until my retirement in 1989. Lake County, which is 4 miles from my home, had received the first plant of Wild Turkeys into northern Michigan. I and 5 other dedicated turkey hunters organized the first local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation in Michigan. We were soon followed by the Traverse Bay and Ausable River Valley Chapters. The three chapters were raising funds that enabled them to purchase corn and distribute it free of charge throughout their areas. We supported the expansion of turkeys into new areas and new counties.

An article titled History of the MWTHA Part 1 appeared in the March 2001 edition of Michigan Turkey Tracks that told of the very beginning of the early chapters. The following appeared in that edition. “We were confronted by plunging turkey numbers, rampant poaching, loss of quality hunting loss of habitat. The Baldwin hunting area was split into two units. Permits were increased on falling turkey numbers creating keen competition for those actively gobbling toms. The DNR no longer required the license fee to be deposited up front and cheating was widespread. Individual concerns and suggestions were ignored. The Wildlife Division discontinued the winter surveys. Turkeys were in decline statewide. There was deep concern over the future of the Wild Turkey and turkey hunting. WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE?”

During the early 1980’s I was in a unique position. During that time DNR employees, including conservation officers and biologist filled their gas tanks from the post pump. I had the Michigan Compiled Laws at my disposal and had many good contacts. DNR district biologists were reporting widespread poaching of Wild Turkeys to DNR headquarters. To a person, the conservation officers warned that poaching endangered the future survival of the Wild Turkey in Michigan.

I researched the Compiled Laws, especially the section concerning the penalties for the illegal killing of a bear and deer. If somehow Wild Turkey could be added to that section of the law, penalties could be increased over the small fine that was currently being paid.

In late August 1985, I met with State Representative Sid Ouwinga at the Pizza Hut in Reed City. I outlined the problem of widespread poaching and asked him if he would introduce a bill that would add the Wild Turkey to that of the bear and deer. He told me that he would and on September 19, 1985, the bill was introduced and referred to the House Committee of Conservation and Environment.

“We were confronted by plunging turkey numbers, rampant poaching, loss of quality hunting loss of habitat. Turkeys were in decline statewide. There was deep concern over the future of the Wild Turkey and turkey hunting. WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE?” – Jim Maturen, President, Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association

This began my transformation from turkey hunter to a lobbyist. On 10/17/85 I appeared before the above House committee. I furnished them the facts of a falling turkey population, of rampant poaching and the importance of the opportunity to restore the once extinct Wild Turkey to Michigan. When in committee Representative Scott advised that he was considering introducing a bill that would increase the restitution for illegally killing bear or deer and did I think that $1000 was too much for a turkey. I replied that it wasn’t if we wanted Wild Turkeys in our state. After the meeting, key people in the House were contacted for their support. By early December the bill, H.B. 4977, had passed the House unanimously I believe and was sent to the Senate Conservation Committee.

As the bill worked its way through the committee I appeared to give testimony and information in support. Senator Kirby Holmes was the chairman. He was contacted a number of times to ensure that it would pass out of committee. Contact was made with key senators, including Senator John Engler, who pledged his support. On 2/10/86 it passed in the Senate 35 to 0 and sent back to the House for increased penalties, (apparently they believed me). The House concurred and was sent to Governor James Blanchard for his signature of Act 15 of 1986. I, Art Cocklin, Tom Tigh, Sid Ouwinga and staff attended the signing ceremony.

After the passage of Act 15 Representative Tom Scott, as promised, introduced House Bill 4482 on March 26, 1986. The bill would increase the restitution paid for poaching various birds and animals, including the Wild Turkey. It passed the House with unanimous support and sent to Senator Kirby Holmes Senate Conservation Committee. A problem arose. It was nearing summer recess and the bill was lingering in the Senate committee, apparently without any outside support. Upon contacting Senator Kirby’s office I was able to get the bill passed out of committee on 6/3/86. Contact was made with key Senators and the bill passed the Senate 6/12/86. It was sent back to the House with increased penalties, then on to the Governor for his signature.

The total penalties from the passage of both bills affected restitution and other penalties of all game animals, birds and waterfowl besides Wild Turkeys. Passage of H.B. 4977 calls for taking bear, deer and Wild Turkeys jail time not less than 5 days nor more than 90 days, a fine not less than $200 nor more than $1000 and costs of prosecution plus the revocation of their hunting license for the current year plus three. H.B. 4482 increased restitution fees for the illegal killing, possessing, purchasing or selling game. $1500 for each elk, moose, bear, hawk or eagle poached. $1000 for each deer, wild turkey, timber wolf or owl. $500 each for other game animals, upland game birds, and waterfowl.

The previous fees were $200 for elk and moose, $100 for deer, bear, wild turkeys, hawks, owls and eagles and $5 for other game animals, upland game birds, and waterfowl. Soon after passage of the two bills reality struck poachers throughout the state – hard. As an example, two Detroit-area men decided that they would eat a little venison and white meat out of season. They were caught in Alpena County for poaching a deer and seven Wild Turkeys. They were ordered to pay $8,000 restitution, sentenced to 10 days in jail and fined an additional $1000 each. The stiff sentences handed out caught the attention of many would-be poachers. A rumor also spread through the poaching community that the DNR had transmitters implanted in turkeys. I knew how this one got started. Where our turkey numbers were falling suddenly their numbers began climbing.

When H.B. 4977 was introduced several DNR managers scoffed at it and said I would never get it passed. When introducing or supporting legislation or turkey hunting rules we did what was necessary. We didn’t need a committee nor did we have to ask permission. We just took action that we felt was necessary without fanfare.

Within the DNR’s Turkey Digests are the rules for hunting turkeys. Most of the rules were initiated and obtained by the founding members of MWTHA. A retired DNR biologist wrote an article on hunter ethics and mentioned the shining example of our turkey hunting rules. But this is a subject for a future article.

During the early 1980’s, turkeys in the Mio area grew to a winter flock of 500 that were congregated on one farm where they were a nuisance to the farmer. Robby Riobbins dug into his own pocket bought and hauled corn to the flock. Because Robby has ensured their survival the Mio turkeys were planted in the Upper Peninsula for their first turkeys, from Mio to Ontario and from the UP back to counties in northeastern lower peninsula. Had they not survived the terrible winter this all would not have occurred. Robby founded the Ausable River Valley Chapter.

By 1985 Area J consisted of a small portion of Charlevoix, Antrim, and Kalkaska counties. The winter count in that Artic of Michigan 11 turkeys compared with 47 the previous year. People like Archie Reeves organized the Traverse Bay Chapter and through a lot of out of pocket money and hard work they brought turkeys through impossible winters. A decade later Area J expanded to an entire five counties with over 12,000 turkeys counted.

Where did the funds come from to bring turkeys into southern Michigan? From the restricted licenses of turkey hunters throughout northern Michigan.

A comparative handful of people has had a major impact on the restoration of Wild Turkeys and the quality hunting that we enjoy today. Their dedication to our magnificent Wild Turkeys has never been acknowledged by the DNR.

Spring 2016 Update
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