New to Idaho: Turkeys and More

Turkeys are Idaho's largest upland game birds. Smart, crafty and colorful, they're known for their keen eyesight. Benjamin Franklin promoted turkeys as our national bird instead of the bald eagle. Even though wild turkeys can be found across Idaho, they are not native.

Turkeys arrived in 1961 courtesy of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game when Merriam’s turkeys were first released near Whitebird. An aggressive transplant program, which included Eastern and Rio Grande turkeys, too, have made wild turkeys a well-established species in Idaho.

Like many introduced species, if the habitat suits them, they flourish. Turkeys have adapted so well in northern Idaho, they have become a nuisance in some locations. Yet in the Salmon Region, wild turkeys struggle to hang on. Wild turkey populations in Idaho are largely found in the Panhandle, Clearwater and Southwest regions and parts of the Southeast Region. For more informaiton...

Turkeys are only one of many non-native species the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has introduced to Idaho in the past 75 years. Some,like turkeys, have taken hold and provided new hunting and viewing opportunities. Other introductions, like brook trout, have provided opportunity, but at a cost to Idaho’s native species, particularly bull trout.

Eager to have certain species to hunt and fish, the public has also introduced non-native species on their own. Because many of these introductions have been fish, this activity is dubbed “bucket biology.” Over the years these introductions have grown to include: carp, brook trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bobwhite quail, ring-neck pheasants and most recently, wild boar.

Game species Fish and Game has introduced to Idaho includes: Chukar, Japanese green pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, Gambel’s quail, California quail and Merriam’s, Rio Grande and Eastern turkeys, walleye, crappie, bluegill, tiger muskie and sunapee trout.

Non-native species can have unforeseen consequences for natural habitat, native species, and popular sport fisheries. Idaho Fish and Game experienced this first hand with the well-intentioned introduction of mysis shrimp into lakes containing kokanee salmon, such as the Priest Lakes and Lake Pend Oreille. These introductions shifted the lakes’ ecosystem to favor other introduced species like lake trout and rainbow trout, to the detriment of natives like bull trout, westslope cutthroat and the ever popular kokanee salmon.

As the science of managing fish and wildlife has evolved, the practice of introducing new species to Idaho, without extensive analysis is largely seen as a naïve and outdated practice.