What’s happening to ruffed grouse in the Upper Great Lakes states?
What’s happening to our ruffed grouse?
It’s a question grouse hunters and woodland owners from Minnesota to Pennsylvania are asking.
Here in Wisconsin, the 2018 survey of drumming ruffed grouse, which is really an index, shows that the population has declined 34 percent statewide from 2017 to 2018.
The biggest decline is in the north, though decreases were not uniform. On 22 of 43 survey routes, the drumming numbers were stable or increased.
The DNR instead expected grouse populations to be increasing and peak in about 2019 to 2021.
Ruffed grouse populations in the past used to fluctuate like a “roller coaster,” varying between peaks and valleys about every 10 years.
What is changing the population cycle has never been known, but biologists wonder about habitat (though the state and partner groups have put a priority on developing more young forest habitat), brood and nesting conditions, food availability, winter roosting conditions, and disease.
The DNR says it has no definitive evidence for a cause, however West Nile virus is thought to be a reason for declines in Pennsylvania.
Research by University of Wisconsin staff and students has shown where climate and precipitation are having an effect on bird communities. The UW research has shown that climate changes, including warming temperatures, wet snowfalls that put a crust on snow, and less snowfall could reduce over-winter survival. This could be influencing the ruffed grouse cycle and foretell a population decline.
The Conservation Congress has asked the DNR to consider reducing the ruffed grouse hunting season, but DNR biologists believe that hunting does not limit grouse populations. Instead, habitat quality is more important.
The Natural Resources Board will hear a recommendation from the DNR on June 27 and could consider changes in a season that now extends from Sept. 15 to Jan. 31.