2018-03-10 / Outdoors

State’s grouse populations decline


Lisa Williams, Game Commission wildlife biologist, has been keeping tabs on the state’s ruffed grouse population. She has recommended that the traditional post- Christmas hunting season for grouse be closed for a second consecutive year. Lisa Williams, Game Commission wildlife biologist, has been keeping tabs on the state’s ruffed grouse population. She has recommended that the traditional post- Christmas hunting season for grouse be closed for a second consecutive year. Pennsylvania’s state bird, the ruffed grouse, has been in the decline over the past decade and is now at historic lows, according to the Pa. Game Commission.

Linda Williams, PGC wildlife biologist, said the agency’s research as well as Audubon Society bird counts confirm the assessment. She has recommended that the Game Commission cancel the post-Christmas grouse hunting season for a second consecutive year.

“Grouse in Pennsylvania are in a pretty dangerous place,” Williams said, adding that more hunting restrictions may be recommended, depending on population figures, reproductive success, along with the prevalence of West Nile virus.

She has proposed a split-zone approach to setting the hunting seasons, dividing the state into Northern and Southern management zones.

In 2015, Williams began a first-in-the-nation study to determine the impact of West Nile virus on grouse populations. The viral infection, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2000. If has been found in more than 125 species of birds, and can cause illness and occasionally death in human and horses.

Williams’ ongoing research has determined that in years when the presence of West Nile virus is high, grouse populations tend to tumble. Her studies have also found that in years when the virus is less prevalent, grouse numbers rebound where there is abundant high-quality habitat.

For ruffed grouse, that habitat is young forest -- also called early succession habitat – which has been on the decline in Pennsylvania for decades. In recent years, the Game Commission has partnered with the Pa. Bureau of Forestry and Ruffed Grouse Society to ramp up efforts to create the favored habitat.

A patchwork of small blocks of early succession habitat is created by clear-cutting stands of low-value timber, predominantly birch species.

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