Saturday, June 30, 2012

MN 2012 Ruffed grouse counts decline - average decline of 24 to 60 percent

Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were lower than last year across most of the bird’s range, according to a survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Compared with drumming counts conducted in 2011, 2012 survey results showed an average decline of 24 to 60 percent, to 1.1 drums per stop, in the northeast survey region, which is the core and bulk of grouse range in Minnesota. Drumming counts in the northwest declined 33 to 73 percent to 0.9 drums per stop. Drumming counts did not change significantly in the central hardwoods or southeast, which had averages of 0.6 and 0.7 drums per stop, respectively.

“The grouse population is in the declining phase of its 10-year cycle,” said Mike Larson, DNR wildlife research group leader and grouse biologist. “The most recent peak in drum counts was during 2009, but hunter harvests remained relatively high through at least 2010.”

Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions. This year observers recorded 1.0 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2010 and 2011 were 1.5 and 1.7 drums per stop, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.8 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 1.9 during years of high abundance.

Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population. The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer.

Minnesota frequently is the nation’s top ruffed grouse producer. On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in Minnesota each year, also making it the state’s most popular game bird. During the peak years of 1971 and 1989, hunters harvested more than 1 million ruffed grouse. Michigan and Wisconsin, which frequently field more hunters than Minnesota, round out the top three states in ruffed grouse harvest.

One reason for the Minnesota’s status as a top grouse producer is an abundance of aspen and other ruffed grouse habitat, much of it located on county, state and national forests, where public hunting is allowed. An estimated 11.5 million of the state’s 16.3 million acres of forest are grouse habitat.
For the past 63 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations. This year,
DNR staff and cooperators from 15 organizations surveyed 126 routes across the state.

Sharp-tailed grouse counts decrease slightly
Sharp-tailed grouse counts in the northwest survey region decreased approximately 18 percent between 2011 and 2012, Larson said. Counts in the east-central region declined approximately 33 percent.
Observers look for male sharptails displaying on traditional mating areas, called leks or dancing grounds. Despite three years of declines, this year’s statewide average of 9.2 grouse counted per dancing ground was similar to the long-term average since 1980. The 2009 average of 13.6 was as high as during any year since 1980. During the last 25 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been as low as seven birds counted per dancing ground.

Overall, sharptail populations appear to have declined over the long term as a result of habitat deterioration. In recent years, the DNR has increased prescribed burning and shearing that keep trees from overtaking the open brush lands that sharp-tailed grouse need to thrive.
The DNR’s 2012 grouse survey report, which contains information on ruffed grouse and sharp-tailed grouse, will be available soon online at

Friday, June 29, 2012

MN DNR releases long-term management plan for ruffed grouse 2012

A long-range ruffed grouse habitat and population management plan is now available on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) website at

“The plan reinforces the state’s commitment to ensure the viability of ruffed grouse and their forest habitat, manage grouse as an integral part of Minnesota’s forested landscapes, and encourage and promote hunting and observation of ruffed grouse in their natural habitat,” said Bob Welsh, DNR wildlife habitat program manager.

An average annual harvest of more than 500,000 birds over the past 25 years places Minnesota as one of the nation’s top three ruffed grouse states. Grouse hunter numbers have traditionally followed cyclic changes in drumming survey indices, but when drumming surveys trended upward recently, hunter numbers did not follow as they had in the past. The plan includes strategies to reverse that trend by offering improved habitat and access, as well as programs to help new hunters.

The DNR’s ruffed grouse management plan was approved earlier this year after public comments on the draft plan were reviewed and considered.

“Now that the plan has been approved, we can continue to implement and accelerate our strategies to maintain great hunting opportunities,” said Ted Dick, DNR grouse coordinator. “Those strategies include improved access to hunting land, better information for hunters and education for new hunters, and focused input to the timber planning process that will ensure that grouse habitat needs are well-presented and considered in all forest planning processes.”

Minnesota leads the nation in aspen-birch forest type, the preferred habitat of ruffed grouse, and offers more than 11 million acres of federal, state and county land open to public hunting.

Persons interested in learning more about grouse, hunting opportunities and available online tools are encouraged to visit the DNR website at More information, including podcasts, more detailed mapping and hunter education class announcements will be posted there as they are developed.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wisconsin ruffed grouse index drops 25 percent

Weekly News article published: June 12, 2012 by the Central Office

MADISON – Ruffed grouse populations in Wisconsin appear to be entering a downswing, according to a recently completed roadside ruffed grouse survey.

Ruffed grouse populations are known to boom and bust over a nine- to 11-year cycle, according to Brian Dhuey, wildlife surveys coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources. The index that Wisconsin uses to track ruffed grouse decreased 25 percent between 2011 and 2012.
“While this is a bit of bad news for grouse hunters, it should not be too big of a surprise,” Dhuey said. “We were overdue for the expected downturn.”

A roadside survey to monitor the number of breeding grouse has been conducted by staff from the DNR and U.S. Forest Service, tribal employees, and numerous grouse enthusiasts and volunteers since 1964. Surveyors begin 30 minutes before sun rise and drive along established routes, making 10 stops at assigned points and listening for four minutes for the distinctive “thump, thump, thump” drumming sounds made by male grouse. Results from this survey have helped DNR biologists monitor the cyclic population dynamics of ruffed grouse in the state.

“Spring arrived early in Wisconsin in 2012, and conditions for the survey were rated ‘excellent’ on 60 percent of the routes. This was about the same as last year’s 62 percent and above the long-term average,” Dhuey said.

The number of drums heard per stop was down 25 percent in 2012 from the previous year. Both of the primary regions for grouse in the state, the central and northern forest areas, showed declines of 21 and 26 percent respectively. The only area to show an increase was the southeast, where grouse exist in only isolated areas of suitable young forest habitat and are not common.

The number of routes that showed a decline in the number of drums heard outpaced those that showed an increase by better than 2:1 margin. Results from the survey matched declines seen on two research areas, with the Sandhill Wildlife Area showing a decline of 11 percent and the Stone Lake Experimental Area showing a decline of 18 percent. Complete survey results can be found on the DNR website (search Wildlife Reports).

“This drop in breeding grouse was not unexpected, as grouse populations tend to be at their peak in years ending in a 9 or 0 in Wisconsin. Last year we had an increase in grouse and were probably at the cyclic peak, a decline was inevitable,” Dhuey said.

“Early weather conditions are excellent for nesting and brood rearing, if we can stay normal or above for temperatures and have a bit of dry weather, we should have a pretty good brood year. I would expect that hunters will see a decline in the number of birds they see afield this fall, but areas of good cover should still hold birds. In years with low grouse numbers, hunters who find success are generally those willing to explore new coverts, as grouse will tend to occupy only the best habitat available and may not be found in the same areas where hunters found them in recent years,” he said.

For more information search for ruffed grouse hunting on the DNR website.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Brian Dhuey - 608-221-6342) or Scott Walter - 608-267-7861

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Purchasing 60,000 acres of hunting land

MADISON – The Department of Natural Resources is poised to make the largest recreational and forest land acquisition in state history, an easement on 67,346.8 forest acres in Douglas, Bayfield, Burnett and Washburn counties from the Lyme St. Croix Forest Company.

The purchase – to be known as the Brule-St. Croix Legacy Forest -- is located at the headwaters of the St. Croix and Bois-Brule rivers in the state’s northwest sands area and contains 80 small lakes and ponds, 14 miles of streams, and a globally significant pine barrens habitat. About 20,000 acres of the purchase are located within the Brule River State Forest boundaries.

“This purchase forever opens access to hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, skiing, bird-watching, ATV and snowmobile trails, portions of the North Country Trail, and extensive habitat for deer, bear, wolves, woodcock, migratory songbirds and grouse,” said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. “At the same time, the land remains in private ownership, on the tax rolls and will be managed sustainably for forestry purposes. It’s a win-win for everybody that will help maintain the celebrated forested character of the north.”
The state Natural Resources Board will review the proposed purchase at its May 23 meeting. If approved, the department will forward the proposal to lawmakers and to the Governor for final approval.

"Through new standards and prioritizing of our department Knowles-Nelson Stewardship acquisitions, we were able to make sure that we had adequate bonding authority to make a purchase of this magnitude," said Stepp. "We thoroughly assess properties to assure we are getting a good return on investment for the public’s money. When we buy land we choose only the best of the best, like the Brule-St.Croix Forest Legacy easement."

According to DNR Real Estate Director Dick Steffes, the transaction is based on two phases. Phase I, to be reviewed at the May 2012 Natural Resources Board meeting, is for a working forest easement on 44,679.09 acres at a price of $252 per acre, or $11,260,000 from the state’s Stewardship Fund. Phase II, also an easement, covers 22,667.71 acres at a cost of $6,007,000. Phase II is proposed as a 2014 transaction. DNR will apply for federal forest legacy funds and use Stewardship. Taken together, the project would protect 67,346.8 acres as sustainable, working forest land permanently open to the public for outdoor recreation.

Working forest (forest legacy) easements ensure permanent public access for recreational enjoyment while the property itself remains in private ownership, keeping property on the tax rolls, allowing sustainable timber harvest practices and minimizing state costs with the low easement versus full ownership cost.

“We applaud the state for recognizing that Wisconsin’s natural resources are precious and should be managed in sustainable ways for the benefit of the regional economy and the environment,” said Tom Morrow, Managing Director, The Lyme Timber Company. “Lyme has a long history of owning and managing large forestland properties under conservation easements that provide a steady flow of wood to local mills, regular employment for forest managers and logging contractors, while allowing public recreational access.” Morrow credited The Conservation Fund for assisting with the transaction.

The Lyme property provides wood products to 12 pulp, saw timber and telephone pole processing mills and other supporting industries in the region. The Wisconsin forest products industry employs 60,000 workers and provides $18 billion in economic value in wood and paper products. Wisconsin leads the nation in employment and the value of shipments in the forest products industry.

“Maintaining large blocks of working forests is critical to the health of our industry,” said Butch Johnson, owner of Johnson Timber in Hayward and Flambeau River Papers in Park Falls. “We’ve seen the break-up of many of our former industrial forests in Wisconsin, and these conservation easements are invaluable public-private partnerships to meet the needs of the public and protect jobs.”

Read The Rest Of The Article

Sunday, June 10, 2012

U.S. Agriculture Secretary names members of planning rule advisory group

On June 5, 2012, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack named the members of an advisory committee charged with providing guidance and recommendations on the implementation of the new U.S. Forest Service Planning Rule. Included on the committee is Daniel Dessecker, RGS Director of Conservation Policy. The entire USDA Forest Service press release is available here...