Turkey attack!

by Bill Monson

All right, it's a week past Thanksgiving. The turkey leftovers are gone -- or nearly so. (Had your turkey soup yet?) You probably aren't In a mood for anything remotely referring to Meleagrls gallopavo -- but I couldn't let this story slide by.

And It's all true -- so help me, Mylanta.

Cambria is a small town nestled on the Central California coast between San Luis Obispo and San Simeon. (Imagine Knoxville spread out through forested hills and arroyos, with a rocky Pacific shoreline.) It straddles Highway 1, but you can't see much of it as you drive by because its main street is tucked away among trees off on a road of its own. lt's a great retirement place, and many Californians maintain vacation homes there. It also does well in the vacation rental business. What's more, it's a popular tourist stop for people headed to and from Hearst Castle at San Simeon just to the north. During the day, the town can triple In size. But after dark, it's so rural they could roll up the sidewalks by ten o'clock.

That's the problem.

After dark, Cambria is a stop for a different kind of tourist.

Deer and raccoons come out of the woods to forage outside its expensive houses and behind its trendy shops. Foxes, cougars and even a bobcat or two roam the nearby hills and may drop in for a visit. Residents have been known to lose pets to coyotes.

But now, with winter coming on and the nights getting longer and colder, there's a new menace.

The wild turkeys have invaded!

These are not your dumb, docile domestic bird. They're wild and feisty, probably descendants of the eastern forest turkey introduced to San Luis Obispo County in the 1940s at the behest of sportsmen. Turkeys are not native to the state but have thrived in its woody hills since their first introduction in 1877.

Usually the wild turkey is shy, but in Cambria people started feeding them. It's illegal to do it, but you know those CalifornIa tree-huggers. When the turkeys realized there were easy handouts in Cambria, they lost their fear of humans and started showing up in greater and greater numbers.

Now, not satisfied with bird-feeders and food piles on the lawn, they've become aggressive panhandlers.

Cambria resident Sam Youngman was out filling his bird-feeder recently when three belligerent toms charged him. They eventually backed him into his own garage. Fortunately for Sam's legs (and more sensitive areas), he was able to grab a hoe to wave at the turkeys until they decided to vamoose.

What makes this problem so weird is that it's happened before. Just a year ago, the same thing occurred here. In 1999, the California Department of Fish and Game was able to trap and transfer some of the aggressive avians, removing them as far as Nevada. Then, a lawsuit by the California Native Plant SocIety put that action on hold. Why? The CNPS claimed research was needed to see if the transferred turkeys were harming rare plants in theIr new locations. (Yep, tree-huggers again!)

By now, you're saying why didn't the natives just shoot the damn birds. Fall Is turkey-hunting season, isn't it? True -- but you need a permit to go after the gobblers -- and you can't shoot a turkey within 500 yards of a house. What we've got here is a Cambrian Catch-22.

In the meantime, joggers, hikers and ordinary pedestrians in rural Cambria are discovering where they stand (or run) on a new kind of pecking order.


None in sight -- but the Department of Fish and Game is recommendIng that Cambrians carry sticks, canes or loaded water pistols when taking the late Fall air.

Okay -- you can forget about turkey until Christmas.

(But in Cambria, the ''pawing on the roof'' on Christmas Eve will come not from reindeer but from roosting you-know-whats...)

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online November 29, 2000

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