Last fall, the 11-weeklong season for ruffed grouse was held in three segments. The first began on Oct. 15 and ended Nov. 26, the second was Dec. 12-24, and the third ran Dec. 26 to Jan. 21. Grouse populations are normally based on available food and habitat, loss to predators, and loss to hunting.
West Nile virus is the new element that is now a part of the equation. According to Game Commission Executive Director Matt Hough, Pennsylvania’s ruffed grouse population is at its lowest level in 50 years — with the likely culprit being West Nile virus. Recent studies show that ruffed grouse are very susceptible to the disease. Most of the grouse that die from the virus do so during the summer and early fall.
At the recommendation of PGC grouse biologist Lisa Williams, the commissioners voted to close the third season, late December into January. This should allow a larger breeding population for the spring of 2018. The late season is traditionally a favorite among diehard grouse hunters, with about 28 percent of the total grouse hunting effort occurring during the winter season. Grouse hunters would be wise to support this decision for the good of the resource.
For the fourth year, the Department of Natural Resources is holding a lottery for landowners to obtain a free survey and report of the plants and animals on their property.
The work is performed by employees in the agency’s Natural Heritage Conservation program.
The reports provide landowners information about rare species found in the area, invasive species to be on the lookout for and general information about the soils, geology and hydrogeology in the area.
One hundred landowners will be selected in a lottery; applications are being accepted through Jan. 31.
The program has proven popular with the public. In 2015 the DNR received 750 applications; last year it got 1,000.
To create the reports, the DNR reviews databases containing information about the rare plants and animals found through field surveys of public lands or nongovernmental organization lands. If a landowner prefers, the review also can include a site visit by a DNR employee.
The work normally would cost landowners about $300, but a private donation to the Natural Heritage Conservation program is covering the cost of the searches for the 100 Landowner Conservation Reports.