Is it possible to save the ruffed grouse in southwestern Wisconsin’s Driftless Area?

Ruffed grouse aren’t the only wildlife species that benefit from increasing the acreage of young forests. Landowners in southwestern Wisconsin can improve habitat for many species by planning timber sales to create uneven year classes of timber. photo by Jerry Davis

The Ruffed Grouse Society’s Scott Walter has a simple-sounding presentation for returning ruffed grouse to the Driftless Area forests in southwestern Wisconsin.

It seems to make sense, biologically speaking, and should be tried by those who value this fine bird, not only for hunting, but for its beauty and the fact that this bird was such a big part of the original landscape and deciduous forest ecosystems in this region.

I wish someone would name it the state’s game bird and the morel the state’s mushroom.

First, Walter thinks of this game bird as a hunk of meatloaf with feathers. No reduction in natural predators will save the bird if it has no place to hide, nest, and pick its food. We’re running out of such places in southwestern Wisconsin.

Walter’s example of what’s happening in the Driftless Area equates to setting a bunny free in Lambeau Field. That bunny is going to get picked off for lack of appropriate habitat. The same with a grouse in the Driftless Area on woodlands that have no aspens and brush to help out in winter, spring, summer, and fall. That could change, however. This would take neighbors working together in planning habitat projects. If every second neighbor devotes a few acres to regenerating aspens and a lot more to managing for some type of oak forest, this would be a good and positive beginning – and not just for grouse, but for many wildlife species.

Grouse, and a lot of other types of wildlife, need young forests. Young forests change to climax forests if left to fend for themselves. Most of nature’s destructive forces that create young forests – such has fire – have been removed, but clear cutting to regenerate the ruffed grouse’s favorite type of young timber is available to us.

Sheltered harvest of oaks, too, should be in the picture. Grouse, turkeys, squirrels, deer, and other species – eve wolves and bears – benefit here and so does the landowner’s bank account.

This type of start will not put 40-bird flushes per day in a hunter’s notebook, but will put enough numbers out there to hear a male drum, help a hen hatch a dozen eggs and give those chicks a chance to make it.

From that we could see what happens in a decade, then improve upon the plan over the next decades and have landowners see and hear the results.

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