This is why Ruffed Grouse Conservation Matters right now more than ever before.
“Everybody knows that the autumn landscape in the northwoods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffled grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet, subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead.” – Aldo Leopold
There is nothing like the thunder of a rising Grouse. A noise I can recall clear as day on a deer hunt in my hometown just on the edge of an abandoned piece of farm land. Now state owned and although protected, not managed for young growth habitat. That day was over a decade ago and I have never seen a Ruffed Grouse in the Eastern Massachusetts, Southern New Hampshire region since.
I am only in my early thirties and in my lifetime I have already seen the Ruffed Grouse disappear from many of the landscapes that I hunted Grouse as a child. Recently I had the pleasure to spend an extended period of time with Andy Weik, Northeast Regional Biologist of the Ruffed Grouse Society. These are the 5 major points I took from that encounter about Ruffed Grouse conservation a knowledge we need to spread to both hunter and non-hunter alike.
Ruffed Grouse conservation, much similar to Wild Turkey have had little to no success at being raised in captivity. Unlike migratory birds such as the American Woodcock, Ruffed grouse cannot simply just pick up and move long distances to the next young growth habitat. This fact in of itself makes right now more important than ever. As key populations of the country come under threat because of the lack of young forest growth which must act now to stabilize these areas through responsible forestry management.
To put it further we need long term plans that allow forests to grow in stages so that population of Ruffed Grouse can thrive with an evolving diverse forest. To do this it takes well planned and ongoing commitments to forestry management.
It’s not as simple as Cutting Some Trees
Just cutting a few trees or many trees is not really how this works. In fact the size of clear cutting actually matters. Cutting a half acre here and there does nothing for young growth species or even taking out hundreds and hundreds of acres can be damaging as well.
Ruffed Grouse are a bird that relies on multiple stages of forest growth to live out their lives, not just young growth. The problem we face is a lack of diversity in our forest. We have extremes, either no forest at all or old growth that without a young growth nearby does not support as many species of wildlife as we would like to think.
Most areas, southern New England for instance has roughly 2% young growth forest. In order to have a diverse forest to support young growth species we need anywhere from 10% to 15%. Sources vary on where the sweet spot really is but never the less the idea is that there needs to be diversity for Ruffed grouse conservation.
Why wasn’t this an issue in the past?
To put it simple. We stop the forest proactively from altering itself. A perfect example is the now extinct Heath Hen. When people realized that the future of the Heath Hen was under threat they reacted. The first thing they did was protect their breeding grounds on Martha’s Vineyard. Second thing they did was start suppressing fires on that landscape to (in their minds) protect the Heath Hen. What resulted was the inevitable end of their essential new growth habitat or as Andy Weik would put it “We loved the Heath Hen to death.”
As we restrict such things as beaver dam creation, or put out forest fires we ultimately disrupt a natural cycle. All though it is necessary in a modern world for us to do this it also means we must do it ourselves through scientifically planned timber harvesting and controlled burnings. In fact Native Americans would intentionally start fires to alter the land as they understood the natural need for regeneration as part if a healthy diverse forest system.
Ruffed Grouse is only one of many threatened by this issue.
This issue is not just about Ruffed Grouse conservation. Threatened species like the Golden-winged Warbler, and New England Cotton Tail are at a critical point as a result of this issue. The list of species is massive including a whole line of song birds, reptiles, plants, and mammals. This more than ever signifies the importance of this issue on a much grander scale than just the Ruffed grouse.
There is Hope
Although this is a complex issue, there is still hope. The Ruffed Grouse Society continues to help fund projects, research science, advise other organizations in forestry management, and grow the awareness of Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock habitat. The best part is that other organizations like the Audubon Society are taking critical steps along with the Ruffed Grouse Society to plan for a better future for all young growth species.
Essentially the knowledge of responsible cutting and young growth habitat is becoming more accepted as the science it is rather than the political science that has prevented this important tool to our forests. That is why right now more that ever at this critical point we must maintain the momentum and help remember this as the generation that acted on science to help save the future of species.
Check out the non-profit the: Ruffed Grouse Society
Also check out the upcoming HunterGreen.Org Original Short Film: Disturbed Forest
Last modified: May 31, 2017