Talking Turkey with Kevin Steeves
Turkey hunting is a huge industry, creating a great deal of revenue and opportunity in the jurisdictions that support it. Our guest today is Kevin Steeves, the president of the Southeastern New Brunswick chapter of the CWTF. Kevin is a genuinely nice guy, who has been involved in the CWTF since it's inception. He has been instrumental in helping to get the local chapter up and running, and is a passionate voice for conservation and hunting rights. In spite of the fact that New Brunswick doesn't currently have a wild turkey season, Kevin is an experienced hunter having spent his money and time to travel to Maine to hunt these elusive birds. It is his dream, along with hundreds of other CWTF members, that we would see a time when the wild turkey can be hunted right here in New Brunswick.
At the 2014 fall banquet for the Canadian Wild Turkey Federation held in Riverview, it appeared they had achieved that dream as the Premier of New Brunswick at the time, David Alward, announced to a standing ovation that there would be an historic spring wild turkey hunt by lottery draw in 2015. However, he was speaking during an election campaign and shortly afterwards the governing Conservative party was ousted and replaced by the Liberal party. New Premier Brian Gallant has seemed non-committal on the turkey hunt, so the CWTF continues working hard to positions themselves as the ones with the answers on having a sustainable, viable wild turkey hunt in the province.
Wilderness Obsession: By way of introduction, can you tell us a bit about the Canadian Wild Turkey Federation? What is it and what do you do?
Kevin: The Canadian Wild turkey federation is a newly founded group, with chapters popping up from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. Our goal is to provide positive outdoor experience for all outdoors people, but specializing in prompting youth hunting. I personally have been involved with a few different rolls since the conception of the federation, involving the South eastern NB chapter.
Wilderness Obsession: The formation of the Canadian Wild Turkey Federation came after the National Wild Turkey Federation, headquartered in the United States, ceased their operations in this country. Can you speak to that situation?
Kevin: Basically, the methods used to control the fundraising dollars was not what revenue Canada wanted for an organization with not for profit status. The dollars raised would go to a super fund in South Carolina, and then be dispersed to the chapters. This meant that nonprofit dollars raised in Canada were leaving the country. We feel that we were treated fairly by the NWTF when the time came to apply for these funds.
Wilderness Obsession: What is the relationship with the NWTF like now?
Kevin: Our relationship with the NWTF is strong at this point. The CWTF is its own entity, not connected to the NWTF. That being said, the NWTF has offered massive support of the things we are trying to do in different parts of Canada. This could range from equipment, to data, to access too many of their turkey experts when a question may arise.
Wilderness Obsession: How many provinces currently have wild turkey hunts in Canada?
Kevin: There are currently 6 Canadian provinces that have a wild turkey population with 5 of those provinces having a wild turkey hunt.
Wilderness Obsession: Is it true that Alberta was working with the NWTF on a trap and transfer initiative to establish a huntable population there? Is that still an option for them?
Kevin: There have been trap and transfers in the past in the Cypress hills / Porcupine hills area, to help the spread of the Merriam wild turkey population. This has helped this area produce a huntable population of birds.
(Editor: For information about a successful trap and transfer in Manitoba, check out our article featuring the team of Trigger Effect here.)
Wilderness Obsession: On To New Brunswick. Can you tell us a bit about the turkey population in New Brunswick right now? Do you have an estimate of how many birds are currently here and where are they primarily distributed?
Kevin: It is estimated that there are between 800 and 1200 bird currently in the province at this point. This is based on an ecological study completed 3 years ago; summer time brood surveys, and a natural mortality rate, for turkey living in a northern climate. The main range of the wild turkeys are west of the Saint John River, and from St Stephen to as far north as Perth-Andover.
Wilderness Obsession: Some people claim that most if not all of the wild turkeys in our province right now are pen-raised and released. Is this true and how do those birds affect the population?
Kevin: This is a problem in the province right now. People are releasing pen raised wild turkeys. This does not help the population, or the image of turkey advocates. Once a wild turkey has imprinted a human as a food source, that trend is nearly impossible to break. If you look at what is going on in Manitoba right now, CWTF members are assisting in trapping natural wild turkeys are transferring them to other area of the province to help spread their natural range.
Wilderness Obsession: At the current population level, is a hunt really sustainable? What does the science say?
Kevin: The proposal put forth to the previous government was a science based proposal, with extensive help from the biologists at the NWTF. It would call for a limited draw hunt that would occur after the peak breading season. This would allow the population to grow, while still removing a limited number of males from the flock. When the state of Maine started, there were 400 birds in the state. The first year, 9 birds were harvested. Now more than 30 years later, there are estimated 75,000 wild turkeys in Maine, and there are fall hunting opportunities, 2 bird bag limits, in addition to the regular spring hunting season. This has become a huge revenue generator for the state.
Wilderness Obsession: In many areas, farmers and sportsmen seem to butt heads, but that doesn't seem to be the case in New Brunswick. Can you speak of their involvement in the plans for a turkey hunt?
Kevin: The consultation of the agriculture alliance was important to the last government. The alliance realizes that the turkeys are here, and there is currently no contingency plan to deal with them. After explaining the proposal to hunt wild turkeys, they became allies of the idea.
Wilderness Obsession: What would a wild turkey hunt look like in New Brunswick? Can you tell us about what some of the plans were before the change of government?
Kevin: It would be a short spring season, maybe 2-3 weeks, and after the peak breading season. There would be a draw type hunt, where the applicants would be put into a non weighted, even chance draw for a turkey tag. This tag would allow the hunter to harvest 1 male turkey. There will also be a requirement for the successful applicant to take some sort of turkey hunting specific course, or show proof of previous turkey hunting experience. The format of this training is still undetermined at this time, but may look something like Ontario’s DVD based mail order course.
Wilderness Obsession: What kind of economic benefits would wild turkey hunting offer in New Brunswick?
Kevin: As far as number go I’m not certain. But putting more people in the woods, spending money on licenses, food, gas, hunting supplies, is a good thing for our economy. In addition to all of those things, as the flock expands, there will be tourism opportunities for our of province hunters. New Brunswick would be the only jurisdiction east of the Mississippi River to offer turkey hunting, along with a spring black bear hunt. This along with the strengthening American dollar would create massive opportunities for the outfitter business in New Brunswick.
Wilderness Obsession: Have you been involved in any discussions with the current Liberal government and where do they seem to stand?
Kevin: At this time, we have not had a face to face meeting with the minister of the Department of Natural Resources. This is something we are looking forward to, hopefully in the near future.
Wilderness Obsession: When the NWTF was involved in discussing wild turkeys here, a trap and transfer seemed to be their preferred option. That has now been taken off the table for NB. Can you speak to why?
Kevin: Taking trap and transfer off the table was basically a result of conversations with the agriculture alliance. They have some concerns about crop damage, and bringing more turkeys into the province, without an established plan to deal with them. This is not something that the CWTF has closed the door on. We have moved on at this current time, but hope to revisit the idea down the road, when an established management plan is in place.
Wilderness Obsession: What do you believe is the path forward now for getting a hunt in New Brunswick? Will this happen?
Kevin: Our main focus going forward has to be to educate the public about the wild turkeys. Help people understand that they are here, and more are coming across the border every year. Our population is continuing to grow, and there are enough birds here to support a hunt. We are light years ahead of where Maine was when they started their hunt. With the support of the hunting community, the province can be convinced that this is a viable industry, and money can be generated in New Brunswick by hunting wild turkeys.
Despite the fact that New Brunswick doesn't yet have a hunt for wild turkeys, the work of the Canadian Wild Turkey Federation has continued both inside and outside the province. Kevin has been an encouragement to the local chapter, helping to keep everyone focused on the big picture. The CWTF is about more than hunting wild turkeys. It's a great and growing movement of men and women who love the outdoors and want to leave a legacy of an enhanced wildlife habitat.
If you would like to learn more about the CWTF and what they stand for, check www.cwtf.ca where you can find out what the organization stands for and how you can be a part of this terrific group!
For those who live in New Brunswick, the Southeast chapter will be holding their 2nd annual banquet on August 29th in Riverview, NB. We attended the first one last year and it was an event you won't want to miss!
Contact us and let us know!