National group focuses on health of woodcock

By Marty Kovarik Correspondent

Crystal Falls, Mich. — A newly formed conservation group,
organized to focus its attention on the American woodcock, is
growing at a steady pace, says the group’s president, Jim Hammill,
of Crystal Falls.

“Woodcock Limited now has 350 members in 35 states, two Canadian
provinces, and even the U.K.,” Hammill told Michigan Outdoor News.
“Clearly, there is quite a bit of interest in the American woodcock
across the United States. We are trying to bring awareness to the
plight of this special bird that has seen a steady decline in both
the central and eastern flyways.”

The decline in woodcock mirrors the decline in aspen forest
types across the north, according to Hammill. He believes the loss
of habitat to development and the deterioration of quality of
habitat are both to blame. Especially important are early
successional forest types.

Aspen habitats are essential to both American woodcock and
ruffed grouse, two game species pursued by almost a half million
sportsmen and women in the Great Lakes region each year.
Regenerating aspen is critical in providing dense cover that ruffed
grouse and woodcock use for protection against predation. This type
of new-growth forest, created by harvesting aspen, also is
important to many other wildlife species, including white-tailed
deer, neo-tropical songbirds, and even the gray wolf.

One of the goals of Woodcock Limited is to bring awareness of
the importance of this habitat to state and federal agencies and
private landowners.

Hammill said that part of the problem is occurring in the
national forests found in the western Great Lakes region. Much
trouble is created when the U.S. Forest Service puts an aspen cut
up for bid and it is challenged by environmental groups opposed to
clear-cutting. In recent years, the Sierra Club and other
organizations have attempted to slow or halt aspen cuts through
lawsuits.

“There is a lack of follow-though in terms of aspen harvest,”
Hammill said. “(The USFS) is substantially behind in its goals to
maintain this essential forest type.”

Another focus of the group will be to educate private landowners
about the importance of harvesting aspen and to help them manage
their property for wildlife.

Many properties are purchased for camps, investment, or other
recreational purposes. Hammill said studies show that as much as 30
percent of the aspen on private lands will never be cut. To
regenerate, aspen must be cut. If allowed to grow old and fall
over, aspen forests will not regenerate, and other trees such as
red and hard maple will take their place. These slow-growing
hardwood types are not as beneficial to wildlife.

“The steady decline in aspen since the 1940s is directly related
to underharvest,” Hammill said. “Much of this private property will
never be cut unless we reach out to land owners and explain how
important this habitat is to wildlife.”

Woodcock Unlimited plans to reach out to private landowners with
an educational program that will allow them to make good decisions
regarding aspen management. They also plan on linking interested
landowners with forest product companies so they may develop
multiple-age forests on their land. The group believes clear-cuts
on as small as 10 acres of land will be beneficial.

Hammill said he has had some people question the need for
another conservation group dedicated to woodcock, especially when
the Ruffed Grouse Society focuses on both grouse and woodcock.

“It is my opinion that there is plenty of room out there for
conservation work,” he said. “We are just taking a different
approach on how to accomplish goals. We view ourselves as working
as partners with other conservation groups, not as
competition.”

Hammill, who was elected to lead Woodcock Limited in 2005, has
been an avid woodcock hunter since age 12. After 30 years as a
biologist with the Michigan DNR, he recently retired as a U.P.
wildlife supervisor. Currently, he owns Iron Range Consulting and
Services, which focuses on wildlife habitat development for private
landowners.

For more information on Woodcock Limited, visit
www.woodcocklimited.org.

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