the eve of Thanksgiving, President George W. Bush has an opportunity
to reverse several decades of presidential politically correct folly.
In l947, President Harry Truman issued a "presidential pardon"
of a live turkey on Thanksgiving eve. Succeeding presidents have
continued the practice. It's time for a change.
gobblers are huge domesticated birds donated by the National Turkey
Federation (turkey farmers). Typically the pardoned bird goes to
a zoo. Last year, Bill Clinton, who pardoned more than his share
of turkeys during his administration, pardoned a big, fat, 50-pound
domestic gobbler who was later sent to a petting zoo in Virginia.
Clinton, of course, is a big fan of petting zoos.
the image of honoring a pen-reared bird that is so fat it can hardly
walk, let alone fly, the National Turkey Federation also donates
a killed bird for the President's dinner. So, even though the animal
rights-types cheer-on the president and the pardoned bird, every
year since l947 that bird's brother or sister has been quietly consumed
a few feet away.
If the annual
Thanksgiving turkey celebration at the White House concluded with
the president chopping off the turkey's head with an ax, and then
eating the bird with his family, that would be an honest development.
As is, the pardoning ceremony, which is held in the Rose Garden,
weather permitting, is a joke. It perpetuates the myth that meat
comes magically from the back room of the grocery store or butcher
shop, rather than having been killed and cleaned by someone. It
also feeds the mentality of animal-rights activists, a group that
has ties to eco-terrorism (which incidentally hasn't decreased since
September 11). And, it ignores history.
is a true American bird. While domesticated turkeys have only been
around since Europeans arrived on the continent, wild turkeys have
been around for at least 10 million years. When the Pilgrims and
the Indians sat down to eat Thanksgiving dinner at Plymouth, Massachusetts,
in 1621, they feasted on the wild turkey. If we are going to honor
a turkey at Thanksgiving, then let's go back to our origins and
honor the real thing.
to his dim-witted domesticated kin, the wild turkey is about the
wariest thing on two feet. With hearing eight times better than
man, he can pick up the snap of a twig a quarter of a mile away.
With eyes that are five times better than a human's, a wild turkey
can see the movement of a hand at 100 yards. If he suspects danger,
a wild turkey can depart on foot at 25 m.p.h., or take to the air
and speed off at 55 m.p.h., which is quite am amazing feet for a
This is a smart
bird, too. When is the last time you ever saw a roadkill wild turkey?
Almost never. Cars kill more deer than hunters do in many states.
Elk, moose, bear, and millions of small animals are bagged by BMW's
and SUV's each year. Wild turkeys know how to stay off the pavement.
Ben Franklin staunchly opposed the bald eagle as our national bird.
Franklin felt the wild turkey was a much better symbol of this country.
It minded its business, had extraordinary wariness and intelligence,
didn't go messing around in other people's affairs (bald eagles
frequently steal food from other predators), but could stand up
and fight like hell for its mate or turf. These are times when America
needs to stand up strong and proud, and the wild turkey remains
a very positive and appropriate symbol of America.
the story of the conservation of the wild turkey is an example of
the best of the American spirit. When the Pilgrims arrived, wild
turkeys were abundant. But, the introduction of firearms, unrestricted
hunting, and clearing and burning forested land dramatically reduced
the population. By the turn of the century there were less than
50,000 wild turkeys left in the wild in the entire U.S.
in New York, wild turkeys were last seen in 1844. But, with the
implementation of game laws, habitat restoration, and some initial
plantings, things have changed dramatically. Wild turkey populations
in New York have jumped from an estimated 2,000 in 1959 to over
90,000 today. The same story can be told all across America and
Canada. Hawaii has a flock. Ontario now has a thriving wild turkey
population. Nova Scotia is about to start a flock of its own.
In 1973, when
the National Wild
Turkey Federation was established, there were an estimated 1.3
million wild turkeys in the U.S. and 1.5 million wild turkey hunters.
Today, there are nearly 6 million wild turkeys (they are found in
all states except Alaska), and 2.6 million turkey hunters. Since
l985, the NWTF has raised over $146 million for 16,000 conservation
projects that have made the dramatic wild turkey comeback necessary.
The turkey hunters of America deserve credit for what they've done.
For the past
three administrations, the NWTF has been trying to get presidents
to abandon the ridiculous tradition of pardoning a fat, domestic
turkey on the eve of Thanksgiving. So far, no luck. NWTF has a Thanksgiving
turkey release scheduled right outside of Washington, D.C., and
they have attempted, without success, to attract the president.
Currently, the deputy director of the Department of Interior is
the only person from the Bush administration that has agreed to
attend. According to Rob Keck, CEO of NWTF, "Everything is
in place except the president. We solicit your help in achieving
I have heard
that President Bush is a hunter. I'm not sure if he hunts wild turkeys
on his Texas ranch, but a politician is always hunting for votes.
I don't know how many turkey farmers there are, but there are 390,000
members of the National Wildlife Turkey Federation in the U.S.,
Canada, and 11 foreign countries. That's a nice, big, constituency.
So, Mr. President,
if you have to pardon a bird, pardon the wild turkey, one of the
most striking and impressive species of wildlife in the world. And
even better, don't pardon a gobbler at all. Americans consume upwards
of 240 million domestic turkeys a year, but they also consume about
twice that many chickens. We don't honor chickens by granting them
life. And we certainly should not honor the overweight domestic
turkey in such a manner.