Voices of the Future (14) - Ruffed Grouse and Aspen

by Justin Vinglas
Forest Science Major, graduated May 10, 2015

The ruffed grouse is a species that heavily relies on an aspen forest for its habitat, source of food, and protection from predators.  The dense young growth of an aspen forest provides a source of protection from predators for the grouse, and the flowering buds of the mature aspen trees is a major source of food for this game bird.  The reason these patches grow back so thick is because of the tendency of the aspen trees to root sucker.  Once a patch of large aspen trees are cut it exposes the ground to more direct sunlight which helps the buds on the root system of the aspen tree to sprout, and a thick layer of new aspen trees begin to emerge.  A single aspen tree can produce hundreds of new aspen trees.

This species relies on a mix of young and old aspen stands so the best habitat for this bird species is 5 to 20-acre aspen patches that are close together but of different age classes. Aspen trees that are around 15 years of age and older provide for the best sources of food where aspen trees that are this age and younger provide for the best source of cover from predators. The understory of the younger age class of aspen trees are good for young grouse chicks because there is not a lot of thick understory vegetation.  There is just enough vegetation for a food source besides the aspen trees themselves and the trees provide the source of cover.

One organization that supports the ruffed grouse habitat projects is the Ruffed Grouse Society.  This organization has been involved with ruffed grouse and woodcock habitat since the 1960’s.  This society provides financial and technical assistance to public agencies that provide early successional habitat for species such as the ruffed grouse.  They help to promote small block cuttings to the agencies that usually conduct large timber sales and cannot afford to conduct smaller sales that the ruffed grouse needs for survival.  They currently are hosting 700 projects across 28 states and their funding will exceed $4,000,000 from 1985 to 2014. I think that this society supports a good cause.

If we do not support these small scale timber sales that promote early successional habitat for the ruffed grouse, this species may eventually make its way to the endangered species list.  Many times it is not economically feasible to build haul roads and landings to harvest a small 5- or 10-acre block, so it is important that this society keeps funding public agencies so they can continue to manage for ruffed grouse.  I worked as an intern with the PA Game Commission for two summers and I know that this agency does a lot of work with the management of ruffed grouse as well.

I remember very well the day I heard my first ruffed grouse in the woods when I was twelve years old.  My grandpa and I were actually turkey hunting on a cool spring morning along the edge of a clearcut when off in the distance I could hear a faint thumping in the distance. I kept hearing it so I asked my pap what it was and he told me it was a ruffed grouse.  That same turkey season we began hearing them more and while moving into a new spot to turkey hunt one morning I flushed my first grouse.  As I grew older I became more interested in this game bird and found them to be very unique.  It was a very neat experience and I will never forget my first spring turkey hunt where I saw and heard my first ruffed grouse.

What I would like you to remember most from this blog post is that a timber sale does not have to be large to make an impact on wildlife, it can just be a small 5- or 10- acre aspen clearcut to make a world of difference for the ruffed grouse in your own forest.

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