Michigan DNR turns to ruffed grouse hunters in West Nile virus monitoring

Michigan saw historically high positive West Nile virus numbers in all species in 2017, with ruffed grouse being one species that saw a significant rise, the Michigan DNR said in a news release.

As a result, the DNR hopes hunters can help the cause.

“Monitoring birds for WNV at a regional level in Michigan and in conjunction with the Great Lakes Region area, will result in a better understanding of this disease in ruffed grouse,” Upland Game Bird Biologist Al Stewart said.  “We need the help of grouse hunters from four identified sample areas in the state to do that.”

For the 2018 fall hunting season, samples will be collected from four areas of the state from September 15 to October 15.

Upper Peninsula: Dickinson, Iron, Marquette and Chippewa, Luce, Mackinaw

Lower Peninsula: Alpena, Montmorency, Presque Isle and Missaukee, Ogemaw, Roscommon

“Evaluating various impacts on grouse populations from influences like weather to the effects of disease, is valuable information,” Laboratory Technician Julie Melotti said. “By testing birds from key areas in the state we hope to learn the extent to which ruffed grouse are being exposed to West Nile virus, and how it may be affecting them.”

In 2017, WNV was identified in 12 ruffed grouse in Michigan, more than ever before. WNV has been present in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin for about 17 years and has been documented in over 250 species of birds. A region-wide effort to better understand WNV in ruffed grouse began earlier in 2018 when Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin began collaborating on recent findings and future plans.

Prior to 2017, only one positive ruffed grouse had been found in Michigan, in 2002. The virus was confirmed in one ruffed grouse in the early 2000s in Minnesota and is yet to have been detected in a Wisconsin ruffed grouse. Ruffed grouse are hunted annually by around 300,000 hunters across the three states, and the hope is those hunters will be a critical tool in gathering ruffed grouse carcass samples.

“We appreciate the willingness of many to help with this effort,” Stewart said. “This certainly could not be done without a team effort from the state agencies as well as the active hunter groups.”

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