Wisconsin grouse test positive for West Nile virus
A reason for increased concern over the state’s ruffed grouse population was confirmed in mid-January, as three of 16 deceased ruffed grouse that were turned in to the Wisconsin DNR for analysis tested positive for West Nile virus (WNV).
The DNR had asked hunters and the public to turn in dead ruffed grouse last fall in the first effort to determine if WNV was present in the grouse population. The previous year, WNV was found in grouse in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The three grouse that tested positive for WNV were from Douglas and Ashland counties. In addition, three other birds tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV).
Mark Witecha, DNR upland wildlife ecologist and Farm Bill specialist, said that WNV did not kill the birds and there is no evidence that WNV or EEEV are having population-level impacts on the grouse population. Biologists believe the declining amount of young forests is the reason for declining grouse populations.
The DNR also distributed 500 kits to Wisconsin hunters last fall, asking them to take blood and tissue samples from grouse they harvest. The DNR received 235 samples that were sent to a laboratory in Georgia and those results are expected this summer.
Grouse populations typically rise and fall in a 10-year cycle. However, in 2017, when biologists expected an increased population, many hunters reported seeing far fewer birds than expected. Then, in 2018, the spring drumming surveys showed a 34 percent decrease in drumming birds. The Natural Resources Board shortened the hunting season and instructed the DNR to begin work on a ruffed grouse management plan.
The plan is being drafted by the DNR and partner organizations. A questionnaire is being sent to a random sample of hunters to learn more about their grouse hunting experience and preferences.
The DNR anticipates having a draft of the plan this summer and holding public input sessions around July. The result should be a management plan in 2020 that includes the ecology of ruffed grouse, disease implications, habitat needs, research needs, hunting season options, and management strategies.