Flock Stocks: Turkeys Are Up, Grouse Down, As States Trade Scarce Wildlife

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

FORGET the frenzy at the New York Stock Exchange. The ``wildest'' trading these days goes on amid a flurry of fur and feathers in many state forests throughout the United States.

State wildlife officials are increasingly trading wild birds and beasts among themselves in an effort to enlarge the number and range of game and other wildlife throughout America. The trades either help ensure adequate stock for hunters or revive an endangered species.

State officials have long linked up with their counterparts elsewhere to trade a plentiful species in their own state for one that they lack. But officials are trading more as they become better at protecting wildlife and slowing the destruction of natural habitats, wildlife managers say.

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The trade of wild animals - fur tousled or feathers ruffled as they are transported by various means - helps benefit people. States clean up bodies of water and restore the land enough to justify the reintroduction of native animals.

``There is no question that states have been quite successful'' in improving natural habitats and protecting wildlife, especially in the past 20 years, says Lonnie Williamson, vice president of the Wildlife Management Institute in Washington.

Water quality, especially, has improved, though much still must be done to clean up the environment, he says.

The exchange of wildlife is one of the cheapest ways to restore beleaguered species. States spend most of their money for wildlife restoration on habitat management and renewal, the enforcement of legal protections for animals, and scientific studies of wildlife.

The trade in different types of wildlife is so diverse that the itinerate fauna seem to have sprung from Noah's Ark.

Among the many deals, Louisiana has traded alligators for wild turkeys. Minnesota has dispatched Hungarian partridge to New York, river otters to Kansas, ruffed grouse and prairie chickens to Illinois, pine marten to Wisconsin, and ruffed grouse to Missouri. In return, it has ushered in several flocks of wild turkeys.

Minnesota is popular for wildlife trading because of its varied ecosystems: prairie in the southwest, deciduous forests in the southeast, and evergreen forests in the north.

The diverse habitats host a rich variety of species, making Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources into a virtual Wall Street of dealmaking in American wildlife.

``Wild turkey is the only thing we don't have that we want,'' says Ed Boggess, wildlife program manager at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Most of the exchanged species are game, with river otters the most commonly traded exception in recent years. Wild turkey - widely considered the canniest and most elusive of game fowl - has become the blue chip of wildlife stock in recent years. It is most often traded by state wildlife officials.

Lots of gobblers in Illinois

Illinois has parlayed its abundant flock of wild gobblers into a few triumphs for the state's biodiversity. Late last month, the state traded 75 wild turkeys for 50 river otters from Kentucky, the first of three identical trades over three consecutive years.

The Illinois Department of Conservation lists the river otter as an endangered species and aims to revive the animals in the Wabash River basin in southeastern Illinois, says Bob Bluett, an otter specialist at the department's Division of Wildlife Resources.

State conservationists set free the 50 river otters on Jan. 30 on the Little Wabash River and at the Newton Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area. They plan similar releases of otters next year, says Mr. Bluett, manager of the department's fur-bearer program.

Illinois had been a hostile home to the river otter for more than a century. A combination of trapping, pesticides, pollution, and the systematic destruction of wooded streamsides wiped out the mammal in all but a few counties, according to Bluett.

State conservationists also aim to restore river otters on the Kaskaskia River. Over the next several years, they expect the species to spread south into the Wabash, Ohio, Mississippi, and Big Muddy Rivers, Bluett says.

Three turkeys for two otters

When it comes to the recent Illinois-Kentucky trade, a wild turkey could rightly get his dander up. Three birds were traded for every two river otters. On the market, dealers ask $500 for a wild turkey, $100 more than for a river otter.

``Some people would argue that maybe it should be a different ratio'' of bird to beast, according to Sue Lauzon, executive director of the Endangered Species Protection Board in Illinois.

But there are no clear benchmarks for the trade of animals. State officials usually learn about the supply and demand of wildlife when they meet with their counterparts from other states.

The officials haggle over many points, including the abundance of the animals and the difficulty in trapping and transporting them.

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