The ruffed grouse, a wild species appreciated and respected by hunters and non-hunters, is in difficulty over a large part of its territory. Indiana, for example, a state where grouse were abundant two to three decades ago, listed ruffed grouse late last year as an endangered species.
A report on the evening news Thursday revealed that in recent times 23 other species of wildlife have become extinct.
Gone forever, never to be seen on planet Earth again.
Sad to think, and it would be even sadder if this wild bird of the forests had to go this route.
The culprit is always the destruction of their habitat – a place where they can live, lay their eggs, raise their young and thrive. A place where old and new forests complement each other.
The secret place
In my youth, when I had the stamina to hunt wild grouse, there was this peculiar stretch of woodland where I – hunting without a dog-bird – never failed to hunt three or four grouse. Have I ever brought one home for dinner there? No.
Before starting the wooded hollow, there was a small field where a grove of pines grew. Once, when heavy snow covered the ground and clung to the pine branches, I had three grouse close to those trees.
They roared so far ahead that I never had a chance.
Beyond the pines began a wooded hollow. A small stream ran down it and steep slopes rose on either side. The path to the stream was interspersed with small valleys. In one, I could crawl through the brush and sit on a bed of moss, away from the rest of the world.
In the small clearing above me, I saw a flying squirrel come down from a beech. An owl flew over its silent wings, returning home after a night of hunting.
Then came the widening of US 23. The contractor wanted a place nearby where he could dump all this displaced dirt to accommodate the project.
He got it from the landowner of my secret grouse forest. The hollow has been filled. Today there is only a flat, grassy area.
No more small stream. No more grouse.
It was destruction of wildlife habitat in the extreme.
Jack London’s story
As a teenager, I sat in this little hideaway and thought about Jack London’s short story, “All Gold Canyon”, which I had just read on homework in school.
The story, which has only two characters, one good and one bad, tells the story of a prospector who discovered a rich vein of gold in such a mountain valley. He picked up gold from the stream. He began to dig at the base of the slope that formed one of the walls of the valley. The deeper he dug, the more nuggets he found. He was on the mother seam. He dug so deep that when he bent over it was over his head.
Suddenly, a threatening shadow fell over his shoulders. He heard the sound of a gun being cocked and he knew he was about to die.
To experience the tale’s surprise ending, if you can’t find the book in the library, you can purchase a copy on eBay or Amazon.
Ruffed Grouse Society
The Ruffed Grouse, along with the American Woodcock Society, of which I am a member, are leading the fight to restore suitable habitat and bring back the ruffed grouse. RGS works with private owners and national forest officials for better management of forest land.
The plan includes clearcuts and prescribed burns. Some tree tops and branches are left on the ground in designated areas to cover themselves and prevent deer from grazing on new seedlings.
Nick Biemiller, conservation director of the Southern Appalachian Forest at RGS, said a report released last year identified ruffed grouse had declined 71% since 1989 in the southern Appalachian Mountains, which includes the is from Kentucky.
“At the same time, the Southern Appalachian National Forests contain only 1.3% young forests (trees 0-20 years old),” Biemiller said.
“The situation is clear, active habitat management is not happening at the pace and scale needed to support populations of grouse and other wildlife. “
“We are currently in the process of hiring a Kentucky All-Lands Wildlife Ranger and a Virginia Public Lands Wildlife Ranger.”
In last year’s financial report, RGS and AWS raised just over six and a quarter million dollars from all sources of revenue. Of that, 55.2 percent ($ 3.4 million) came from contributions, 17.6 percent ($ 1.1 million) from banquets and events, and just over half a million dollars in dues.
Of the expenditures, 83.4 percent ($ 3.3 million) goes to conservation programs. Only 6.7% ($ 269,000) goes to administration costs.
Company officials say there is an abundance of small trees – desirable hardwood species – that successfully grow in their regeneration areas.
It is difficult to walk in thick and young forest areas. The harvest plan followed created an ideal habitat not only for grouse and woodcock, but also for songbirds and deer.
Contact G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.