For avid grouse hunters in West Virginia, these are difficult days.   Even in a good brood year, the ruffed grouse continues to be a fragile species in the Mountain State and throughout the Appalachian region.

“I have reports this year of people going in during archery season and putting up multiple broods on their way into a tree stand in certain parts of the state,”  said DNR Biologist Keith Krantz who oversees grouse research for the agency. “I thought that was pretty encouraging.”

But even encouraging reproduction cannot counter what has become the single biggest obstacle for grouse populations in West Virginia, habitat loss.

“Grouse hunting is on the decline just based on habitat,” said Krantz. “We’re just not cutting as many trees across the state and without that early successional habitat, the grouse just doesn’t do as well and that’s what we’re seeing.”

Gone are the days of vast tracts of land timbered and left to regenerate anew.  The new growth becomes the prime living condition for the ruffed grouse.  The downturn in the housing market caused a substantial reduction in timber sales across the state.   Environmental activism is another difficult obstacle to overcome.

“The Forest Service used to cut many, many millions of board feet a year and they don’t anymore due to the pressure they’ve been put under,”  Krantz said.  “They still do some timber sales, but where it used to be more than 30-Million board feet, now it’s more like 2-Million and doesn’t get a lot of emphasis.”

The DNR has taken a more active approach to habitat restoration.  Several wildlife management areas in the state have been slated for select timber sales.  The sales are purely managed to enhance habitat, but even still are merely a drop in the bucket.

“We’re slowly working toward putting more of our areas into a greater percentage of that young frest habitat, but we own a very small chunk of real estate in West Virginia.”

During the 1970’s and early 1980’s grouse hunters enjoyed bountiful hunting in West Virginia.  During the decades before, logging and surface mining was at it’s peak.   The rebirth of the forest in those areas was alive with grouse.   As time marched on, those vast areas slowly transformed from brush covered landscapes into small pole timber, and eventually into mature hardwood forests.  Many have already gone well past maturity today and should be thinned again.    Krantz isn’t sure those days can ever be recaptured with today’s way of thinking.

“It’s pretty upsetting because there really isn’t a lot that we can do,” he said. “Just wait and hope the timber market picks back up and we can put these smaller, 10 to 12 acre, clear cuts on the ground and get these grouse going again.”

The Appalachian mountains are in the very southern tip of the ruffed grouse range.   A finger down the spine of the Appalachians is as far south as the birds will be found.  Krantz says even when habitat is perfect, reproduction can be a mixed proposition.   Cooperative research reveals a stark difference in the reproductive rate of grouse in the oak/hickory forest and those which range in the northern hardwoods.

“The birds in the Appalachian region, their reproductive rates are much lower than the birds in Michigan and those northern tier states where you have aspen,”  Krantz said. “The buds of aspen trees are much more nutritive than what we have for them.   These grouse are just getting by where those grouse are flourishing.”

Krantz said the best West Virginia grouse hunters can hope for is a rebound in the housing market and increased timber harvesting.  Until that happens it’s unlikely conditions will improve.  He says unfortunately, the conditions many seasoned grouse hunters remember from the 70’s and 80’s are probably gone forever.

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  • Gary Brown

    How the West Virginia DNR can say they have conducted a study with regard to the decline of Ruffed Grouse and fail to mention wild turkeys is ridiculous. This really sounds like a bureaucrat trying to keep his job. The stocking of the wild turkeys was a mistake. The cover in on the farms that I grouse hunt on is as thick as it ever was. I have been a biologist for over thirty years and I have watched the explosion of the wild turkeys in northern West Virginia decimate the grouse populations. As a group of 40 or 50 turkey's scratch their way through the woods it reminds me of wild hogs in Texas. The turkeys and the grouse share much of the same foods. This may come as a surprise to DNR biologist but turkey's are a good bit larger than grouse. You can cut all the timber you want but until the turkey problem is addressed you will never see grouse in West Virginia again. Perhaps the so called biologist with the West Virginia DNR should go back to school and take a biology class or two or better yet just get a job in the oil patch.

  • Dale Perry

    I feel that it is the abundance of growing wild turkey populations throughout our state ! They are taking all the mast and tearing up the grouse nest and if they stumble upon chicks they eat those also ! Very arrogant birds they are indeed ! Our state needs to set up a grouse repopulation , stocking grouse or having hatcheries to populate with ! It seems they can w coyotes and turkey , etc. these two have taken up homestead in every county where they were never seen before ! Come on WV build back the grouse and bobwhite quail soon ! Be resourceful !

  • michael spade

    I fill like when road hunters are killing from several to up in the 80s and nineties that could have a severe impact on the grouse population

  • Mike

    Decimated? Jim you are an idiot. Probably belong to the Sierra Club.

  • Big O

    If more people would trap and thin out predators such as raccoon fox bobcats and the yote would help.......then again dog hunters clash with trappers about setting traps, they need to work together......hunters/landowners need to talk to trappers in those areas and give them access to trap their properties would's not just habitat loss.

  • Kevin

    When I was a kid there were grouse everywhere. You could sit on the front porch and listen to them drumming without having to go in the woods. The habitat where I lived then was mature hardwood. The grouse disappeared when turkeys started appearing. The woods have since been logged in many areas I hunted since I was a kid. Turkeys have flourished but the grouse disappeared. There are none now. Coincidence? Maybe. Probably not. Turkeys are a cash crop. Grouse are not.

  • thornton

    Odd....timbering, not living up to the definition of legal can find redress at any stage of the process. If that is not occurring then perhaps the problem is with those tasked with overseeing the process rather than the process itself.
    Loogers....also is a name fitting a wide variety of individuals and businesses. Try not to tar all with one wide sweep of a mistaken brush.

    Clearcuts, in the Apps where slope is a definite consideration or in areas where it is not, can deliver the natural regeneration that many species of critters respond to...the ruffed grouse is only one....another being the golden-winged warbler.
    Depending upon the timber involved and all that goes to determing a harvest perscription...clearcutting is a fine and, actually, a responsible consideration for the company, the species in the woods and waters and, those who recreate in them..

    Again, don't blame the easy black hat alone...blame also those responsible for making sure that legal is an end well as that loaded log truck.

    I do not live in Charelston and have worked(never in the timber buisiness) over many areas of WVa.....personal digs mostly result from being unsure of one's position...I reckon that the case here.
    I also have cut a brookie or three.
    No one wishes to see issues with water quality from any number of sources.

    The "selfish" remark does not deserve a response.

    Not a big fan of WestVaCo....they suck up the Leasing dollar like a Tim Horton's coffee as opposed to their once open Public access policy...along with their participation in the ill-fated RGSWestVaCo grouse permit of several years ago. It wasa very poorly constructed program and was yet another dollar grab....but their business is not aiding sportsman and never was.
    Aiding sportsmen by providing access was simply an offshoot of their doing business and creating super early successional habitat for a multitude of species along with sportsmen.

    Me thinks you hate logging too much to be able to see clearly...good luck with that.

  • Jim

    To "thornton." I take except to your statement of: " I have yet to see a woods decimated by legal timbering....visually especially after 5 years. I have seen woods made healthy by timbering". Maybe you live in the South Hills of Charleston, however, if you come up my way, I can show you thousands of acres of decimated forest. Areas that look like you called in a military air strike. Sound timber management practices never enter into the thought process of many loggers. What isn't harvested is destroyed by their felling marketable timber on less marketable species or pushed over by dozers and log skidders. Further, I can spend days showing you timbered areas where the logger made no attempts to terrace haul roads to prevent or lessen sediment run off into streams. The haul roads are vertical. I have been to these sites and they are not, as some would have you believe, "are just a few isolated instances", that the adjacent streams, some holding a spawning populations of Native Brook Trout and high quality streams running brown with sediment runoff and literally turned into mudballs. I'm a grouse hunter too, however, I am not so selfish that I want to see other species suffer and high quality streams rendered infertile due to logging. And to those that propose clearcutting in order to promote higher grouse populations or any particular species, then go hunt on the National Forest or WESTVACO lands. They are strong advocates of clearcutting, but I can assure you that WESTVACO's main motivation for clearcutting is not to aid sportsmen.

  • thornton

    I suggested more DNR will, effort and dollars for studies and more. The importance is where the studies are directed....generalized study re habitat decline is a waste of time. The answer to that portion of decline has been well known for decades...the problem is implementing that particular answer. The SELC is a powerful foe.

    A study concentrated on ruffed grouse health concerns or hunter additivity would be more focused and may result in some good info as a start.
    There has only been one study, I believe, that focused on late season hunter additivity as a primary goal...and that was in the Pigeon River area of northerm Michigan...a far different country than the Apps.
    Most studies, like the ACGRP, made assumptions re additivity and mostly to assuage hunter worries over season shortenings....and DNR worries, as long seasons sadly sell licenses to self-focused hunters.
    The ACGRP did provide additional insight into the ruffed did the PGC study.
    But, both basically indicated the need for a more focused research rather than the scattergun approach to problem the decline continues in the face of both good habitat and spring hatch conditions lately.
    Ohio is the same way...the paper mill there still needs fed daily and clearcuts exist....grouse tho have not responded in that area to a measurable degree or in the ice storm area of 2003.

    Most grouse research has been decades before the ACGRP and mostly in other sections of the range....applying that info to App. grouse is a recipe for delay or failure....not quite a trainload of info relating to a very changing range of present day decline factors.

    Be nice to also see how Leasing has affected the ruffed grouse...lot of post deer season skirmish lines sweeping the woods for very few grouse in the Apps...mostly they serve to flush and open the birds to predation....Leasing is a very bad deal all around and beyond deer feeder concentration.

    I have yet to see a woods decimated by legal timbering....visually especially after 5 years. I have seen woods made healthy by timbering.

    Can't see much use in studying deer or turkeys....good grief!

  • Shadow

    More studies! All that does is pay the biologists and makes no more game! I remember the study that said no bounty was needed on coyotes. You can't find a rabbit anyplace, but then I haven't dissected a coyote.

  • Jim

    I beg to differ with Thorton and Ben. As a former long-term DNR employee with a major in biology, to say that the DNR will not or does not conduct research is an understatement. Examples: When spring gobbler harvest is down, what's DNR's response? "Well, we are going to undertake a large research project". What happens when the bear harvest is down?: "We are undertaking a large black bear research project". What happens when the fall turkey harvest is down? "Again, we are implementing a large hen turkey telementry study." Then, what happens when the grouse harvest plumments? "Same refrain, just different wording. "We have some ideas about what is causing the problem, however, we need to undertake a large-scale grouse habitat study." Folks, these responses are the standard party line reponse of DNR. One does not have to hold a degree to have a cursory understanding of population dynamics or habitat. Hunters are more educated and shophisticated regarding wildlife management than they were a few decades ago. So, to the DNR and anyone that buys into their triate buzzword explanations, I say hogwash! Stop justifying your budgets and "jones-n" the sportsmen of WV. A 100 car frieght train couldn't hold the published research papers and books about deer, black bear, turkeys and yes, grouse! Finally, to make a statement that timbering has decreased significally due to the national economy, hence the reason for the decline in the grouse population is ludicrous. In Central WV and the mountain counties, timber buyers need to wear badges to prevent trying to buy tracts of timber off each other. Drive through these regions of WV and dodge the timber trucks. Get out in the woods in these regions. They have been decimated by timbering, yet no grouse. WV license buyers need answers--not reconstituted excuses!

  • Ben

    Dnr? Research? You must be joking?

  • thornton

    No mention of nest predator increase from deer feeders and a trapping slow down.
    No mention of the season extending into February.
    No mention of increased woods activity in the winter opening the flushed bird to greater avain predation and taxing the bird when the mast nutrition is the poorest.
    No mention of any concern that the turkey may carry a virus that weakens the bird or that West Nile has an affect on pulling off a successful hatch.(NY grouse have been found to carry West Nile)
    Just pray for a housing boom?
    There simply are not enough mills to process the timber that would be required to raise the early successional % to a measure healthy for both the bird and the forest.
    Also, the ruffed grouse of the upper great lakes finds far more plusses than aspen buds....only one being snow, which carries a mercifully shortened hunter additivity component.

    I do agree, ruffed grouse are too low on the decline to ever return to a level that equates to viable.
    I do agree that habitat loss, predators and weather, hatch and post-hatch, remain the Big 3 decline components.
    I do agree that WVa can do nothing re the national forest management and that work on state lands carries the same threat of obstructionists lawsuits.

    But, rather than kill 'em while we got 'em....close the season on Jan 1 and ban deer feeders as a start.
    Then consider spending a bit of money on investigating a health component to the ruffed grouse decline.
    Don't just pray that suburbia grows again.

    As another note, the Marcellus boom helps some in alllowing sunlight into a forest's floor but it also effectively killed the potential of a Biomass industry....more shame that.

    And, deer hunters are the absolute worst indicator of ruffed grouse populations.If that is the DNR indicator then woe to the ruffed grouse. Spend the money on research rather than kicking gravel with deer hunters.

  • Charlie Nichols

    Keith is right. We have found good grouse habitat on Meade WesVaCo lands but you have to join haunting club due to the leasing that Meade does to maintain a viable business. Hopefully our WMAs will catch up in cutting and creating some early successional habitat.