How long does it take to cook a wild turkey? It depends who you ask.
A chef will suggest popping that bird in the oven for about two hours. Scientists, on the other hand, say it could be decades before North American turkeys are climatologically cooked.
“We know climate change will impact all of our game bird species,” Tim Lyons, an upland game researcher with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, told me for this story.
“What we don’t know is what these habitats are going to look like in 40 to 60 years,” he said. “We should probably be thinking about that now instead of waiting until something happens.”
Native wild turkeys are tough birds. They survived European settlement, the clearing of North America’s native forests, the rise of industrial agriculture and unfettered hunting through the early 20th century.
But in the last 17 years, the nation’s wild turkey population has declined by 15 percent, or 1 million birds. Today, there are an estimated 6.5 million turkeys nationwide, a number that wildlife experts, conservation groups and hunting advocates are closely watching.
Droughts, fires, and forests dying from pests and disease are squeezing many wild turkey populations, particularly in the West, said Mark Hatfield, national director of conservation for the National Wild Turkey Federation. And losing those habitats will only be compounded by warming temperatures.
The decline in turkey populations isn’t necessarily a catastrophe yet, Hatfield said. While wild turkeys are seeing their sharpest drops in the Southeast, a traditional stronghold, other regional populations are holding steady or even seeing some growth.