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9 charged in wild turkey investigation

Nine people have been charged with 421 counts of illegally importing, owning or selling wild turkeys, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Saturday.

Fifteen wild turkeys and 25 wild turkey eggs also were seized as part of an eight-month statewide investigation known as Operation Toxic Turkey.

It is illegal for the general public to have live wild turkeys in Kentucky, and wildlife transportation permits are required for anyone bringing wildlife into the state.

The probe was launched last August, after after investigators heard a radio advertisement in Bardstown for live eastern wild turkeys for sale.

The nine people who were served summonses Saturday live throughout the state, from Pikeville to Murray. A Bardstown man, Stanley Hurst, 28, faces more charges than the others — 168 counts of importing, possessing or selling wild turkeys.

The birds were being imported from a New Mexico hatchery, which did have a permit to sell live turkeys, the department said in a press release.

The investigation was far reaching. Illegal turkey trafficking was reported in at least 13 other states.

Bringing wild turkeys into the state puts Kentucky's native turkeys at risk, wildlife biologists say.

"There are many biological concerns when releasing captive-raised poultry into the wild," Steven Dobey, the Fish and Wildlife Department's turkey program coordinator, said in the release. "The potential for transmission of diseases and non-native parasites is increased due to their captive origin."

The state has worked hard to rebuild its wild turkey population.

By the mid-1950s, the population had decreased to about 900 birds, almost all living in the Land Between the Lakes area of western Kentucky. Today, after a restoration effort in the 1980s, the wild turkey population is estimated at about 250,000.