With declining ruffed grouse numbers, New Jersey ditches hunting season
At their regular meeting on July 17, the New Jersey Fish and Game Council unanimously voted to close the ruffed grouse hunting season statewide, the Division of Fish and Wildlife said in a news release Thursday, July 25.
Recognizing that grouse populations in the state were declining, the season length and daily bag limit were reduced, and the state was divided into two zones, in 2005, with the southern zone having a shorter season than the northern zone. The closure takes effect immediately.
Ruffed grouse populations in the state have declined due to lack of suitable habitat (young-aged forests), which they require. Such forests now comprise less than 1% of the state’s forests. Anecdotal reports of hunters seeing grouse have dwindled as forests continue to age due to lack of forest management. Although hunting is not the cause of the decline, and in fact, the number of grouse hunters has a parallel declining trend, the Division and the Fish and Game Council feels that current grouse population levels cannot support a hunt at this time, according to the news release.
Division biologists carefully considered all available data and concluded that, at its current population level, the grouse population size is insufficient to support regulated hunting. The Upland Bird Committee of the NJ Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs agreed and endorsed the proposal, and the Fish and Game Council voted to close the ruffed grouse hunting season at their June 2019 meeting.
A recovery plan is being completed which will include habitat management to encourage population growth where grouse still exist. It will also include the parameters to be met to reopen the season when and if the population responds to management efforts. The Division has already begun examining its Wildlife Management Areas in the northern portion of the state to determine where best to enhance existing young forest stands and create new patches of early succession habitat. Other DEP lands may also be available for habitat improvements. Forest management on private lands will also be promoted so that the ruffed grouse may remain a viable wildlife species in New Jersey.
— New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife