Ruffed Grouse Society talks future of bird preservation

The Susquehanna River Valley Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society held its annual members banquet at The Genetti Hotel Saturday. In addition to dinner, the event featured auctions and raffle prizes, which spanned the walls of most of the banquet hall. Attendees entered for chances to win camping supplies and various rifles and shotguns, among other prizes.

The Ruffed Grouse Society is a national organization of land managers, foresters, game wardens, commissioners and grouse and woodcock hunting enthusiasts whose mission is to conserve and improve land conditions for the benefit of ruffed grouse and woodcock populations. The ruffed grouse is a helpful indicator of forest health, which is why the society works tirelessly to ensure the species is maintained.

However, the society’s work benefits more animals than just grouse and woodcock. Its habitat work is good for deer, turkeys and neotropical songbirds that migrate from South America, said Seth Heasley, digital media and marketing specialist for the society.

The annual banquets, in addition of Ruffed Grouse Society efforts, help foster local connections.

“(Projects) are employing local foresters and loggers, so it’s one big circle,” said Linda Ordiway, regional biologist for the society. “Which keeps a lot of things local.”

For Benjamin Jones, president and CEO of the Ruffed Grouse Society, habitat conservation is the society’s most important goal.

“Another tenet of the (society) is supporting science-based management, both wildlife and habitat management,” Jones said. Jones takes great pride in his organization’s efforts, and said it is a dream come true. “Kids want to be that person in uniform,” Jones said. “When I went to the county fair, I saw these people in green uniforms that were biologists and game wardens with the game commission, and that’s what I wanted to be.”

But all of this pride and success are not without their challenges. Ruffed Grouse Society is working with a “three- to 10-acre regeneration cut that didn’t come back the way state forest wanted it to,” Ordiway said, which will need to be replanted and closely managed. In addition to environmental issues, Ruffed Grouse Society is having trouble getting young people interested and involved, said Ordiway. Novel diseases like West Nile also make it difficult on the grouse population, added Jones, which has contributed to the population’s recent decline.

And an issue that is not often apparent to those who visit many of Pennsylvania’s state parks are that many of the trees in the forests are mature trees, Jones said, which is an issue because there are not many young trees. “Around the turn of the century, the entire state was clear-cut and burned, and now we have an entire state of 80- to 100-year-old forests,” Jones said. This sort of single-age forest situation creates a breeding ground for West Nile and other diseases.

Jones also spoke of the importance of market forces, such as paper mills, and specifically, mechanized logging outfits in Wellsboro to alleviate some of the aged trees to make way for younger plantings and healthier habitats.

These market forces could also mean improved town economies, such as in Renovo, where the median household income is $25,000 per year, said Jones, by tapping into the single-age forests as a renewable resource.

Perhaps one of the largest hits to the society as an organization is the recorded status of American Woodcock and Ruffed Grouse populations in the US. The American Woodcock and Ruffed Grouse were indicated as species of concern on 27 and 18 State Wildlife Action Plans, respectively. The ruffed grouse will potentially be listed as endangered in the state of Indiana, with a 99 percent reduction in grouse numbers this past fall, said Jones.

One of Ruffed Grouse Society’s solutions to lower these numbers and help the woodcock and grouse populations is social media campaigns to raise awareness and drum up funds, said Jones.

Despite inherent challenges, the Ruffed Grouse Society has made considerable strides in their recent projects. “Our project has cost us pennies on the dollar. We are ahead of schedule and way under budget,” Heasley said.

Although the society has been around nationally since 1951, it is constantly looking foward and is optimistic about the future, in part because of its partnership with Pennsylvania College of Technology. “Penn College instructors are instructing the people who are going to be the next leaders and land managers,” Ordiway said. Second-year forestry students Nathan Avery and Caymen Trostle were awarded scholarships for their work on a collaborative project in Loyalsock State Forest.

“These men and women are coming out with a true skill,” Ordiway said. The success of the partnership with Penn College has inspired national headquarters to expand the program to other chapters, said Ordiway. Involvement goals for Ruffed Grouse Society do not simply end at the college level, as there is a national headquarters push to appeal to younger generations as well.

“These kids are going to be our future state foresters and commission workers. They’re going to be managing wildlife and our forests for us. The more hands-on experience we can get them in now, the better,” said Ordiway.

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