PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: What are “Healthy Forests”?

Pres Msg            “I have read many definitions of what is a conservationist, and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an axe. It is a matter of what a man thinks about while chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”

Aldo Leopold, Axe-in-Hand

Some people are under the false impression that the only component of a forest for which RGS and AWS are interested is young forest habitat. Those people are mistaken. As described in our mission, we are dedicated to preserving our sporting traditions by creating healthy forest habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other wildlife. A healthy forest cannot be comprised exclusively of young forest habitat any more than it can be covered entirely with old growth trees.

No single forest type, by itself, offers the healthy sustainability a forest ecosystem gains from the extensive diversity of plant and animal life provided by a range of forest types within a single forest. There are different ways to define a healthy forest, but the key to promoting abundant wildlife (and ultimately, sporting traditions) is through a range of age classes that provide diverse forest structure and species of trees to sustain diverse wildlife populations. A healthy forest – one composed of a well-balanced range of age classes – also provides a consistent supply of services like water quality, yield and quality of wood and non-wood products, and wildlife habitat, all of which impact recreational, scenic, cultural and economic values. An ecosystem is comprised of biotic and abiotic factors functioning harmoniously and constantly seeking equilibrium. Ecosystems can be extremely small like a rotting log or landscape-scale encompassing entire watersheds.

Habitat Specialists

The key to relating the importance of healthy forests, by focusing on age class, community, and species diversity goals, rests in basic forest ecology. Forests are dynamic systems driven by the “competing” processes of succession and (historically) disturbance. As disturbance resets successional pathways, it allows disturbance-dependent plant and animal species (blackberries, ruffed grouse) and communities (aspen, oak and beech) to remain a vital component of the forest.

As human development has fragmented the landscape and motivated practices like aggressive control of wildfire, the natural forms of disturbance that historically shaped wildlife and wildlife communities of eastern forests have been substantially inhibited. As a result, we are seeing broad shifts toward older forests composed of later-successional species. Impacts on species associated with young forests are wide-spread and well documented. Succession moves forests forward, toward not only older classes, but also domination by certain species not well adapted to disturbance. Without disturbance we lose diversity, and we disrupt the conditions to which our forests are adapted on the landscape scale. In the absence of natural disturbance, the need to introduce disturbance to maintain diversity, or forest “health” is paramount. In that context, active forest management is not only good for particular species, it is mimicking natural processes that foster diversity across a landscape.

Declines in young forest habitats/communities/species is a conservation issue on par with recognized threats to other communities like wetlands, native grasslands and shore lands. While this is increasingly being recognized by resource scientists and managers, it has been a tougher sell to the public than have pleas for conservation of wetlands and grasslands.

We believe the reason for this tougher sell is that wetland drainage and grassland conversion result in dramatic changes that are readily perceived by the public, who are then eager to support wetland/grassland or species-specific conservation efforts.  A maturing forest, to most folks, is still a forest.  It requires more education and outreach, and a much more nuanced and detailed message to get them to understand the plight of young forest plant and wildlife species dependent upon early-successional communities.

Furthermore, for some “wilderness” and “old growth” advocates there is a fundamental interest in simply protecting trees, and we see in that growing mindset a similar issue to those opposed to hunting and other forms of wildlife management: the public increasingly relates to “conserving” individual animals and trees, rather than considering what is needed to conserve wildlife populations and forest communities. It’s not an easy task to get them to think on a larger-scale, and accept that to conserve populations and communities it is not necessary to save every individual – and that approach can in fact be detrimental.

Ultimately, the choice of whether or not to engage in active forest management is not just a choice between young trees or old trees, but because of succession processes it’s also a choice that can cause broad shifts in forest communities. Even the towering old growth “tree cathedrals” that many seek to create through formal wilderness designations crumble at the advance of pine beetles, gypsy moths, woolly adelgid and subsequent wildfire. There are ecological, recreational, and cultural benefits to representing these characteristics somewhere in our forest planning, but while this “wilderness character” does not last forever at a fixed point on the landscape, wilderness designations do.

Thus, the preservation of forest areas behind the cloak of non-use designations is neglect, not respect as these supporters often contend. Not managing is a human-caused impact just as much as managing is, and neither choice absolves us from the responsibility of considering and CHOOSING how we will affect our forests or other ecosystems.

For RGS and AWS, our keen focus and advocacy for young forest habitat must be viewed within the context of the entire forest ecosystem. Managing forests to sustain a well-balanced range of age classes is not motivated by preferring one age class over another, it is simply a commitment to ensuring the cycle of succession and disturbance continues to sustainably produce diverse forest ages, structures, species and the associated diverse wildlife species and services. It is true that the young forest habitats and wildlife that are so important to us depend upon our intervention through intentional management, but they also depend upon these cycles continuing to play out across the landscape. In choosing to manage a piece of the system without consideration in how the flow of biotic and abiotic factors is interrupted is not responsible management, nor does it demonstrate an understanding of forest ecosystems. Each of us must hold ourselves accountable to the collective responsibility we have for the needs of the entire forest ecosystem. This should be true for all of us regardless of whether we advocate for young forest habitat or single-mindedly campaign for wilderness or old growth.

Timber management is the tool which today’s forests require to withstand threats from wildfire, insect and disease, invasive species, and diminishing biodiversity. However, maintaining sustainable forest management programs and managing woodlands for timber production requires an infrastructure be in place to accomplish treatments over a larger landscape or encompassing an entire ecosystem. Continued wood supply keeps mills running with accessible timber contracting and trucking infrastructure, making these more readily available to all landowners within the region to apply treatments associated with forest health issues. The lack of continued timber harvesting on USFS lands has all but destroyed the existing infrastructure in many regions, making commercial forestry economically unworkable.

As a conservation organization, our responsibility to wildlife and our sporting traditions has not changed regarding our obligations to the generations that follow us, but the way we approach this responsibility may have to change. Our message, which is a model for science-based conservation of natural resources, should also be a message for citizenship and for stewardship. By doing so, we engage every individual in pursuit of their outdoor traditions as we all work together to achieve healthy forest ecosystems.

For more information on RGS/AWS programs to create healthy forests, visit www.ruffedgrousesociety.org.

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C’mon President Trump . . . #FixOurForest

By Brent A. Rudolph, Ph.D., RGS & AWS Director of Conservation Policy

A number of provisions favorable to hunters and healthy forests await the President’s signature later today…

Pen (2560x2560) (1280x1280)On December 1, we released a National Update, asking our supporters to ask Congress for a budgetary fix to help the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) deal with out of control annual fire suppression costs. On January 12, we followed up right here on the RGS/AWS blog, identifying a number of provisions that could address the “fire borrowing” problem, including passing the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA), H.R. 2862 and S. 1842.

Set down your coffee cup for a moment… Congress heard us!

Late this week, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill, as required to make funds available to individual agencies and programs for the remainder of the current fiscal year. The bill includes other provisions, including the comprehensive wildfire funding fix that was part of WDFA.

President Trump can sign this bill into law later today. He recently said he might not.

Overall, hunters stand to benefit considerably from the omnibus bill. The President’s signature is still required to enact all of these provisions and avert a third government shutdown in the last several months:

  • Freeze the level of funds USFS will be required to annually budget for suppression, minimizing the budgetary impact of projected costs that are expected to escalate.
  • Use natural disaster funding to make up the difference when annual costs exceed the fixed budget level.
  • Provide USFS additional tools to facilitate forest management for wildfire prevention and control.
  • Boost overall funding to wildlife agencies and programs, including increases for the Department of the Interior (DOI), Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Land and Water Conservation Fund, and North American Wetlands Conservation Act.
  • Reauthorize another program RGS/AWS and other partners have asked Congress to address as a critical conservation tool for Western lands – the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA). FLTFA reauthorization (as addressed in R. 5133 and S.2185) would direct revenues from the sale of small or low-value federal parcels to fund acquisition of new USFS or DOI lands that provide hunting and fishing access or high-value habitat. Currently, proceeds from such sales simply go to the general treasury, placing public lands at risk of being sold simply to bolster the federal budget.

If anybody is passing by 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW in Washington, DC today, stop in and let the folks there know you and your fellow hunters would like to see these provisions enacted. Bring a pen with you.

Read the Press Release here . . .

 

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EDITOR NOTE: GIVE ME A WINDOW . . . That’s all I need . . .

Nagy Illustration

By Matt Soberg, RGS & AWS Editor & Director of Communications

Now is your window to help RGS & AWS create healthy forests and increase the voice for  the future of grouse and woodcock – New member drive ends April 1!

***

I was flying to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, home of the Ruffed Grouse Society headquarters, watching a movie on my smartphone through the GoGo entertainment app offered by Delta, when I heard a character say, “Give me a window, that’s all I need.”

I hit pause. That statement hit home to me for some reason, probably the positivity and determination in its message, and caused a moment of reflection. Does that ever happen to you?

I took a moment to send myself an email with just that statement thinking it may be a good article idea someday. The statement hit me, but the context of the character and the specific movie did not, although I believe the character was referring to taking advantage of chance to create an opportunity.

This happened months ago, but for some reason I remembered the “window” statement in the middle of the night, 2:31 a.m. to be exact as my notes reflect. Similar to emailing myself ideas mid-flight, I keep a notepad next to the bed for just these moments. If I try to remember them, these brilliant midnight ideas (tongue in cheek), they are gone the next morning.

The fall hunting season was fast approaching, and I woke up at said time sweating and stressed out about how short the hunting season is and how much we had to get done during that short “window”.  It caused me to think about taking advantage of chances and creating an opportunity in the short season we have. I started typing on my laptop the next morning.

Here were the first two midnight “window” thoughts I had, one humorously literal, and the other figuratively important:

The day was opening Saturday of the 2017 Minnesota grouse opener. The place was Central Minnesota, and I was with a good hunting buddy, his bird dog and one of mine. The weather was low 60s, and we were amped to brave the green jungle of early season leaves.

We had scouted a new area, one ripe with a large, young rectangular stand of aspen probably cut around eight or so years ago. The stand was surrounded by a healthy diversity of other forest types all around, hidden from the roadside.

We hunted the edge of the stand, pointed and flushed many woodcock, although they were not yet in season. Still fun though. The grouse were hard to come by with two flushes and neither bird viewed through the naked eye.

We made one last loop and were only about 200 yards from the truck where we’d drink some coffee, check the maps and find the next spot.

I called my young setter by name as we approached the vehicle, and he first swerved near my hunting buddy who immediately hunched over, hand over nose and mouth, in disgust. “What in the he## is that smell?” My setter next neared my location, and I could see, and smell, he had rolled in a carcass, a disgustingly rotten carcass at that. I too hunched and covered nose and mouth, and my buddy laughed and laughed and laughed.

For all you numbers folks out there, here is how my opening day went: 12 grouse flushes. umpteen woodcock flushes, 1 hunting buddy, 3 birddogs, 1 dog rolling in rotting carcass, umpteen expletives, 1 hunting buddy uncontrollably laughing, 4 windows rolled down from the rancid smell, 1 lake to wash dog which didn’t work, umpteen more expletives, and 1 hunting buddy still laughing.

As we drove home, the smell forced me to think, “Give me a window, that’s all I need.”

***

banner-2017-member-promo-2My other more figurative midnight thought was about the Ruffed Grouse Society membership and how we move the needle. How do we increase the voice for habitat, grouse, woodcock and hunting so that future generations of upland hunters experience these fine seasons as we do?

My personal feeling is that if you hunt grouse and woodcock, you should give back to the resource, whether you receive an incentive or not. The Ruffed Grouse Society is the leader in forest management, the only organization grouping and energizing grouse hunters and forest conservationists across the grouse and woodcock range. The Ruffed Grouse Society is keeping a pulse on forest conservation and upland hunting legislation and policy and the force influencing positive change.

The overwhelming majority of those reading this column will have hunted grouse or woodcock during our short window of our hunting season. Many of you will have hunted with others – Ask yourself and then ask your hunting buddies if they are members. Ask if they are giving back to the resource we need and love. Imagine what we could do if each one of us recruited one new member to the Ruffed Grouse Society – we’d double membership, increase the voice for hunting and habitat and create that much stronger of a foundation for the future.

The unbelievable promotional deal of our current Ruffed Grouse Society new member drive is still in place – but only for a limited time! – Ends April 1, 2018 – where new members receive a logo’d blaze, meshback hat along with a graphic, long-sleeved T-shirt, both of which are quite popular, not to mention this award-winning magazine, may I say so myself (tongue in cheek). Only $35!

But current members can participate too, and I urge you to do so – it’s quite easy. First, if you recruit your hunting buddy by gifting a $35 membership, you, the current member, receive the shirt and hat. Now, that’s an easy way to give back to the resource. Second, if you are currently a Ruffed Grouse Society member, but not a member of the American Woodcock Society (or vice versa), you can receive the shirt and hat by joining the other organization too.

Before this promo runs out, recruit a hunting buddy to join the effort, ask a Ruffed Grouse Society biologist to manage your private forests, volunteer for a chapter habitat day on public land, go to a banquet, volunteer for the New Hunter Mentor Program or Women’s Intro to Wingshooting program or participate in the new member drive. Take a chance and create an opportunity.

As we all know, our window of opportunity is too short, but, “Give me a window, that’s all I need . . . to make a difference.”

***

Back to the opener and on the bright side, again for all the numbers folks, we had some good luck too: 2 shots fired, 1 grouse in the bag, 1 high-five, 1 shot of scotch at hunt’s end (ok, maybe two), and despite the rancid dog, we had 1 toast to grouse and good times, and 1 plan to do it all over again.

Give me a window, that’s all I need . . .

**First published as the Editor Note from the Winter 2017 Issue of Ruffed Grouse Society magazine.

To join the effort, go to www.ruffed.org

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PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE – Stay Focused on Habitat

RGS Mag Pres Msg Fall 2017

When I hunt grouse and woodcock next fall, I want to better clear my mind of all things occupying my thoughts . . .  I want to stay focused on what I’m doing . . . I want to stay focused on hunting, and when I do, I pick up little cues from the surrounding habitat, I pay closer attention to the dog work, I react to flushes better and shoot straighter, and I’m quite sure you’ve made a similar observation. Staying focused helps us enjoy all the hunt has to offer and gives us a much more fulfilling and satisfying hunting experience regardless of whether we bring back any birds at the end of the day.

With our busy lives, we become more easily distracted, and it takes real discipline to maintain focus on what we’re doing. My buddy from Texas describes the task of staying focused this way:

“It says easy, but does hard!”

Similarly, we must maintain our focus to carry out our critical RGS/AWS mission, which is to create healthy forest habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other forest wildlife. During the past few years, much attention has been paid to the impact of West Nile Virus (WNV) on ruffed grouse populations. WNV is an arbovirus transmitted by mosquitoes and was first detected in North America in 1999 (in New York). Human and wildlife infections have been reported in all contiguous 48 states. Clearly, we need to understand how this disease mechanism affects the birds we champion.

Grouse 2

Photo by James Boburka

The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) is working to better understand the impact of WNV on ruffed grouse populations in a study started in 2015, and RGS/AWS has been, and continues to be, a partner in this effort. PGC, with RGS/AWS support, sampled hunter-harvested grouse in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons.

WNV does not apply annual and steady pressure on grouse populations throughout their range, as risk to grouse fluctuates over time.  In Pennsylvania, dramatic WNV peaks occurred from 2001 to 2004 and again from 2012 to 2014. WNV peaks are triggered by weather conditions, and the timing of peaks will vary in other states, regions and time periods. Pennsylvania’s population monitoring indicates that regions with high-quality and abundant habitat show a strong grouse population recovery between WNV peaks, and flush rate data from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan appears to support this connection.

These preliminary findings seem to make sense and reaffirm the crucial role habitat plays in bird health, disease resistance and population resilience. So what should we take away from all this? We, as hunters, should be disappointed that our Pennsylvania grouse season was cut short as PGC temporarily shortened the 2017-2018 season based on the effect of WNV. We should be even more disappointed because the lack of high-quality and abundant young forest habitat made grouse vulnerable to disease in many parts of Pennsylvania in the first place (where the ruffed grouse is the state bird!). In 2011, the PGC adopted a Ruffed Grouse Management Plan and, to their credit, some of it was implemented, however, given the grouse population’s response to WNV, partial implementation was not adequate. We must disrupt this status quo – the very same thing may happen all over again whenever the next disease or threat arises if we don’t stay focused on the bottom line now . . . young forest habitat.

Photo by Matt Soberg

Photo by Matt Soberg

We need to challenge our public land managers to stay focused on implementing their grouse and woodcock management plans, which call for scientifically sound active forest management that benefits many species of forest wildlife. Having a plan and failing to implement it is worse than not even having a plan at all.

A primary challenge faced by natural resource professionals today is to enhance the understanding of an increasingly nature-deficient public of the critical role played by disturbance in the conservation of wildlife.  The public must be helped to better understand the very real consequences to wildlife from decisions to NOT impart a particular habitat management action on a particular landscape.  The public must be helped to better understand that the long-term implications of inaction must be given equal consideration in decision-making processes to the potential short-term implications of action. The failure to compel this enhanced understanding will seriously compromise efforts to conserve game and nongame wildlife associated with habitats sustained only through periodic disturbance.

As the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion be enlightened accordingly.

— Inscription on the dome of the Missouri State Capitol Building.

High-quality and abundant habitat is where RGS/AWS will maintain our focus. We will stay focused on working with and educating landowners, government agencies and the public of the necessity to create this critical healthy forest habitat through scientific forest management. Similar to human populations, bird populations will be more resilient to threats from diseases when they are strong, healthy and safe. Healthy forests produce abundant wildlife that enable hunters to enjoy our cherished sporting traditions this season and many seasons to come.

For more information on Ruffed Grouse Society programs, visit www.ruffedgrousesociety.org.

To join and give back to habitat and hunting, go to www.ruffed.org.

 

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Helping Your Grouse Dog Combat the Cold

TIPS FROM:

Basic CMYK

The Do’s and Don’ts of Helping Your Grouse Dog Combat the Cold

Although the 2017 ruffed grouse season is winding down, it’s important to stay vigilant about keeping your hunting dog safe in chilly conditions. Cold weather can be harmful for a dog. It can affect his or her immune system, making the dog prone to disease and injury. By following these tips, you can help reduce disease and the risks of hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature, and frostbite, the freezing of tissues caused by exposure to very low temperatures.

shutterstock_100081568

DO Know Your Dog’s Limit

Pay attention to your dog’s tolerance of cold weather. Keep a close eye on puppies and senior dogs, as they cannot withstand wintry weather as well as a dog in his or her prime. A good rule of thumb for limiting outdoor exercise during winter is that if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog.

However, just because the weather outside is frightful doesn’t mean your sporting dog should become a couch potato until spring. A dog that is bored becomes anxious and stressed. Regular conditioning and training, whether indoors or outdoors, will help to relieve stress and keep him or her healthy and fit.

DON’T Ignore the Telling Signs

Do not overlook common signs indicating hypothermia, such as shivering, paleness, listlessness and frostbite. A dog suffering from hypothermia should be brought inside and stabilized before being transported to the veterinarian. Hypothermia can be managed by drying off your dog if he or she is wet, then wrapping the dog in a warm blanket or towel.

DO Wear Weather-Appropriate Gear

When subzero temperatures prevail, you should also consider wind chill and precipitation. Getting wet in frigid weather can be particularly dangerous for a dog, as a damp coat drains body heat. When it comes to keeping a dog warmer and drier, any added protection is better than none. Dog vests and boots can help shield a dog from the elements during a hunt or training session.

DON’T Skate on Thin Ice

Avoid putting your dog’s life in jeopardy by steering clear of frozen ponds, lakes or other bodies of water. You can’t be certain whether the ice will support your dog’s weight. If it doesn’t, the situation could be tragic.

DO Check Your Dog From Head to Tail

Check your dog’s footpads regularly after outdoor exercise. Constant exposure to moisture caused by rain, snow, ice, or mud can irritate a dog’s footpads, causing skin damage, cuts and infection from bacteria or fungi. If a dog has cracked or bleeding paws, consult your veterinarian.

DO Winterize Your Dog’s Kennel

After a chilly day afield, like you, your dog is ready to return to a warm home. If your dog sleeps in an outdoor doghouse or kennel, preferably one that is insulated and heated, it should be off the ground with the door positioned away from direct wind and have thick, dry bedding. Inside shelter, however, is vital when the temperature plummets.

The bottom line is to use common sense in caring for your dog in winter. Although you can’t change the weather, you can be sure your dog is healthy and comfortable.

www.proplan.com

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C’mon Congress . . . #FixOurForest

By Brent A. Rudolph, Ph.D., RGS & AWS Director of Conservation Policy

Under budgets devastated by wildfire suppression costs, the Forest Service has reduced land management staff by 39% since 1998. Since 2001, vegetation and watershed management program funding has been reduced by 24%, and wildlife and fisheries management program funding by 18%.

The Happy Camp Complex Fire in the Klamath National Forest in California began on Sep. 17, 2014 from lightening and has consumed 125, 788 acres to date and is 68% contained. U.S. Forest Service photo.

The Happy Camp Complex Fire in the Klamath National Forest in California began on Sep. 17, 2014 from lightening and has consumed 125, 788 acres to date and is 68% contained. U.S. Forest Service photo.

On Dec 1, 2017, we asked supporters to ask Congress for a budgetary fix to help the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) deal with out of control annual fire suppression costs, and to enact other management reforms to address backlogged wildlife habitat needs.

The response from our supporters? Great!

The response from Congress? NOT great.

The next very narrow window of opportunity is to urge senators to include forest management reform and a fire funding fix in a federal budget deal. The latest continuing resolution that kept the government funded runs out January 19, 2018.

You might not see direct impacts of wildfires where you live or recreate, but I can assure you every National Forest has been and will continue to be affected if no action is taken. More than 56% of the total Forest Service budget is consumed by wildfire suppression costs, and those costs are expected to surpass two thirds of the budget by 2021 if we don’t act soon. Under budgets devastated by wildfire suppression costs, the Forest Service has reduced land management staff by 39% since 1998. Since 2001, vegetation and watershed management program funding has been reduced by 24%, and wildlife and fisheries management program funding by 18%.

On top of these limitations, laws intended to protect our natural resources are instead fueling litigation against misunderstood but essential forest management practices. Across all National Forests in the eastern U.S. (USFS Regions 8 and 9), “even age” forest treatments have met only 24% of the MINIMUM goals established in forest plans. Other types of forest treatments have not been targeted as aggressively, and have come closer to reaching goal levels.

If you didn’t receive our action alert, or if you didn’t take the opportunity to respond to it at that time, take a look below at the background information the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society provided and the actions we urged to be taken. Take the time now to ask Congress to provide the tools needed for sound scientific management of our forests, and if you’re a social media user, watch for the #FixOurForest and #FireFixNow campaigns that RGS/AWS and a number of our conservation partners will launch next week.

Thanks so much for all you do on behalf of healthy forests, abundant wildlife, and sustaining our sporting traditions!

Alder Fire in Yellowstone NP 2013 credit Mike Lewelling National Park Se...Congressional Action Needed for Federal Forestry Reform

NATIONAL UPDATE

  • Several House and Senate bills have recently been introduced to reform federal forest management, but none appear likely to pass both chambers
  • Identical House and Senate bills have been introduced to address wildfire disaster funding
  • Congress needs to hear from our members that forestry reform and wildfire disaster funding are too important to be overlooked

Greetings!

I don’t often ask for your help. I know the holidays are upon us and you probably have extra family or travel obligations. If you’re watching the news, you hear daily about partisan bickering over numerous issues in front of Congress. Despite all of that, this is an important time for us to speak up on behalf of healthy forests, abundant wildlife, and sustaining our sporting traditions. Congress is exploring some opportunities (and overlooking others) that could make a difference. If you’d like to be a part of this, keep reading.

The “Fire Borrowing” Problem and Need for Forestry Reform

More intense and extreme wildfires, a longer wildfire season, and people moving closer to fire-prone forests are driving an increase in firefighting costs. Against these influences – even with increased annual fire budgets and supplemental funding sometimes provided by Congress – federal agencies must often transfer, or “borrow”, funding from programs that are needed to maintain our public lands. Congress must provide a comprehensive, common-sense wildfire funding fix to help the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Department of Interior (DOI) fully advance their missions with respect to healthy forest management. On the heels of catastrophic seasons for both wildfires and hurricanes, the next opportunity is presenting itself while taking on an overall Disaster Relief Funding package.

At the same time, management of our National Forests occurs under restrictions and guidance by more than 80 laws. Though the value of these resources warrants careful oversight, this legal complexity has enabled litigation in recent decades at an average of about 56 lawsuits filed per year. USFS lost less than 30% of cases brought against it, but the time and resources required to address this litigation (and aversion to prompting even more) allows entities opposed to forest treatments to highjack management. Hardest hit has been young forest habitat required by ruffed grouse, American woodcock, golden-winged warblers, and many other declining game and nongame species.

Active, scientifically based management of our National Forests is grinding to a halt under the burden of these obstacles and funding shortages. Several House and Senate bills have recently been introduced to reform federal forest management (see below for additional information), but none appear likely to pass both chambers. The Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society are still working with congressional staff in an effort to craft worthwhile legislation that would receive bipartisan and bicameral support. Meanwhile, identical House and Senate bills are being considered to address wildfire disaster funding.

What You Can Do

At this point, Congress needs to hear from our members that forestry reform and a comprehensive wildfire funding solution are too important to be overlooked amidst the current preoccupation on other issues. Please consider contacting your members of Congress or their staff and addressing any number of the talking points below. Placing a call to your local office is usually more effective than writing an email, but any effort may help. Add to the talking points with personal stories of how you’ve been affected by the lack of active forest management. And remember – be firm but polite, thank them for their time, and assure them that these are top priorities that you will continue to track and follow up on accordingly. You can find contact information and background on your Representative here, and the same for your Senators here.

The Rim Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest near in California began on Aug. 17, 2013 and is under investigation. The fire has consumed approximately 149, 780 acres and is 15% contained. U.S. Forest Service photo.

The Rim Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest near in California began on Aug. 17, 2013 and is under investigation. The fire has consumed approximately 149, 780 acres and is 15% contained. U.S. Forest Service photo.

Talking Points

I support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA), H.R. 2862 and S. 1842.

  • This is a bipartisan bill that would stabilize USFS and DOI budgets for federal wildfire fighting activities. It is the only comprehensivefire funding solution under consideration in Congress, because it would 1) access disaster funding, 2) address the erosion of land management agency budgets due to increasing firefighting costs, and 3) minimize the transferring/borrowing when suppression budgets run out.
  • In 1995, fire management accounted for 16% of the USFS budget; today it is more than half. At the current rate of increase, it is expected to make up two-thirds of the agency’s budget by 2021.
  • Wildfires are seen predominantly as a “western” issue, but have national impacts. As more funding goes to suppression, less is available for land management programs that benefit forests all over the US.
  • Under budgets devastated by wildfire suppression costs, the Forest Service has reduced land management staff by 39% since 1998. Since 2001, vegetation and watershed management program funding has been reduced by 24%, and wildlife and fisheries management program funding by 18%.

I support forestry management reform to further improve the scientific management of our National Forests.

  • Laws intended to protect our natural resources are instead fueling litigationagainst misunderstood but essential forest management practices.
  • Across all National Forests in the eastern U.S. (USFS Regions 8 and 9), “even age” forest treatments have met only 24% of the MINIMUM goals established in forest plans. Other types of forest treatments have not been targeted as aggressively, and have come closer to reaching goal levels.
  • This lack of “even age” management is causing a conservation catastrophe. More than half of bird species that breed in shrub-dominated or young forest habitats across in the Eastern U.S. have declined since 1980. Just 34% of birds that breed in mature forests have declined.
  • Numerous bills have been introduced with intent to address these problems, but I support any effort necessary to reach bipartisan support for needed reforms.

Particularly worthwhile forestry reform measures include each of the initiatives described in some detail below.

  • Fix the “Cottonwood” court decision, argued by both the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Department of Justice under the Obama Administration as a disastrous ruling. Title I of the Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Act (2068) proposed a common-sense, bipartisan supported remedy. It would focus the conservation benefits of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by ensuring consultation occurs on any listed endangered species during creation of forest management plans, and then allow those plans – which require a considerable level of effort and public engagement in addition to any USFWS consultation – to continue to provide broad management guidance. Future consultation would still be required at the project level.
  • Direct the Secretary of Agriculture to create a Categorical Exclusion (Cat Ex) to specifically focus benefits on forest-dependent Species of Greatest Conservation Need, avoiding vague or broadly worded provisions regarding timber removal. Such a Cat Ex has never been included in introduced legislation. The Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society would happily work with Congress to see such a measure included and introduced under your leadership.
  • Create a pilot arbitration program based on the best ideas presented in the contrasting approaches of Title III of the Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Act (2068) and Title III of the Resilient Federal Forests Act (H.R. 2936). I encourage you to identify components of an arbitration program that can achieve bipartisan support and compromise, promote management accountability, and prevent continued excessive litigation that disrupts scientific forest management and preoccupies the courts.
  • Promote collaboratives, which involve diverse stakeholders working with USFS staff, by expediting National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review of collaborative-developed forest projects similar to the proposal in Title I of the Resilient Federal Forests Act (R. 2936). The collaboratives involve exhaustive deliberation of options for meeting multiple-use objectives. It makes sense that the NEPA review should only be required to consider the option of the selected action of the proposed project compared with the consequences of taking no action.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any feedback, questions, or concerns about this issue,

Brent A. Rudolph, Ph.D.

National Director of Conservation Policy

Ruffed Grouse Society/American Woodcock Society

BrentR@RuffedGrouseSociety.Org

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PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE – Pause to Reflect

Cover imageIt won’t be long before it’s time for us to think about New Year’s resolutions. Personally, I’ve never really taken this practice very seriously, but I know a lot of people who do. I can see some value in making promises to ourselves at the beginning of every year aimed at making some change for the better or improving some aspect of our lives. To me it’s another form of goal-setting . . . so why confine that activity to just one day of the year?

Where I do see value in making a New Year’s resolution is in taking the time to hit the “pause” button for a moment and assess our broader situation. Stopping to think about where we were, where we are now and where we want to go is something we are seldom able to do when we’re constantly engrossed in the daily routines of living our lives and doing our jobs. This is a useful exercise for us as individuals, but also for us an organization.

By looking at the three core pillars of the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society (RGS/AWS) mission: Healthy Forests, Abundant Wildlife and Sporting Traditions, we can gain a good perspective of where we were and where we are today regarding our quest of the RGS mission.

Healthy Forests

RGS created the Drummer Fund program in 2010 to allow chapters to keep money raised at their events. The money raised is directed to a statewide Drummer Fund for use on future habitat projects within their state. RGS/AWS biologists combine this money with other funding sources to further leverage the member-raised funds to accomplish millions of dollars of projects impacting thousands of acres of habitat each year. RGS/AWS crossed the million dollar threshold in annual habitat spending for the first time in 2014. That number doubled in 2015, and doubled again in 2016.

In 2014 RGS created the American Woodcock Society to expand forest habitat efforts and hunting opportunities to new landscapes across the nation.

In 2015 RGS filed a Petition for Rulemaking with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service due to the consistent failure to provide young forest habitat required by ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other wildlife.

During the past few years, RGS/AWS aggressively expanded our pursuit of habitat grants. In addition to getting more on-the-ground habitat work completed every year, we have worked more closely with state and federal agencies in developing strategies and identifying projects that benefit young forest habitat.

In 2016 RGS/AWS held the Driftless Symposium in LaCrosse, Wisconsin bringing together agency professions from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa to focus on landscape scale goals to enhance future young forest habitat in the Driftless Region.

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RGS/AWS President and CEO John Eichinger discusses healthy forests at the 2017 National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt.

Abundant Wildlife

As an example of the work RGS/AWS does with wildlife management agencies to create premier habitat conditions for grouse and woodcock, we partnered with the Michigan DNR to create the GEMS program (Grouse Enhanced Management Systems). Currently there are 16 such sites in Michigan. We have worked with many other governmental entities in many other states and regions throughout the range of ruffed grouse and American woodcock to accomplish similar results.

The RGS/AWS team of biologists is expanding, and earlier this year we created a new category of biologists called Forest Wildlife Specialists. In collaboration with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and other partners, RGS/AWS employs these specialists to work directly with private forest landowners to develop and implement forest wildlife management plans on their property. Performing wildlife management work on private woodlands has often lagged behind achievements on public lands because private tracts are usually small and fragmented. This important facet our wildlife management work will continue to expand in the years ahead.

In 2014 RGS/AWS participated in new satellite woodcock migration research performed through the USGS and USFWS. In 2018, RGS/AWS will participate in a second study focusing on woodcock that migrate to New England, Eastern Canada and the Mid-Atlantic states.

Sporting Traditions

In 2015 RGS/AWS expanded mission impact by creating a dedicated position and a series of programs aimed at recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) by introducing participants to hunting, shooting and dog handling. So far this year the New Hunter Mentor Program has conducted programs in nine states involving nearly a thousand participants. More of these events will occur through the end of the year and includes programs at colleges and universities. The Women’s Introduction to Wingshooting program, spearheaded by Meadow Koufeld, held two sessions this summer involving 66 women. The RGS Leadership Academy expanded into two states this year and will continue to expand in the coming year.

RGS/AWS uses our rapidly expanding digital media capabilities to acquaint a growing number of younger enthusiasts to communicate our passion for grouse and woodcock hunting and the commitment to our mission. Communicating the RGS/AWS message through social media channels including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube videos, blogs and other channels, we attract and engage a younger generation that helps ensure our future.

Behind the Scenes

RGS/AWS earned the 4-star rating by Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator. The 4-star rating is a result of RGS/AWS maintaining sound fiscal management practices and a commitment to accountability and transparency.

This year RGS/AWS is undertaking a major upgrade to our technology platform. These improvements include migrating many of our systems to cloud-based technology to improve security and reliability. We are implementing a new system for managing membership information, improving data security and enables members to manage their accounts online. Coupled with this is a new e-commerce module to make joining and renewing a better user experience, online banquet registration and sponsorship, and supports a more user friendly check-out experience on the web store. Elsewhere, several major processes such as pre-banquet planning, post-banquet reconciliation, grant administration and habitat project management are being automated. Previously these processes were performed manually, and automation will dramatically improve efficiency and quality. All of these technology improvement are made possible through a grant from a R K Mellon Foundation we received earlier this year.

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As you make your New Year’s resolutions, take time to reflect where you’ve been, what you’ve done and where you want to go. In reflection, RGS/AWS has set a foundation to enhance healthy forests, abundant wildlife and sporting traditions, programs and strategic plans that will allow RGS/AWS to benefit habitat and hunting in 2018 and beyond.

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First published in the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine Winter 2017 issue.

To join efforts to preserve sporting traditions by creating healthy forests for grouse and woodcock, go to www.ruffed.org.

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GROUSE CAMP TOUR STARTS TODAY!

NEW YORK & NEW ENGLAND

2017 GROUSE CAMP TOUR

October 21 – 29

#grousecamptour

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“There is an old New England saying to the effect that if you give a man a shotgun, a bird dog and a violin, he won’t amount to a damn.”

 ~William Harnden Foster ~

Join the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society for the third Grouse Camp Tour, where we celebrate habitat, membership, volunteers and the grouse/woodcock hunting experience. This year’s Tour will be throughout the New York and New England region: New York Grouse & Woodcock Benefit Hunt – Malone, NY, Vermont, Western Massachusetts and Southern Maine.

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SPONSORED BY:

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We will candidly document and update the Tour in real-time at www.grousecamp.org and on social media (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram @ruffedgrousesociety, Twitter @RGS_AWS). Content will include regional habitat, interviews with biologists and dedicated members, grouse and woodcock hunting footage, featured gear/products and more.

Check back daily for updates! You’ll also get a chance to see some of the “how and why” RGS/AWS preserves our sporting traditions by creating healthy forest habitat for grouse and woodcock.

It’s with great pleasure we present to you our 2017 Grouse Camp Tour!

Limited Time Membership Offer! www.ruffed.org – ONLY $35! – get an RGS/AWS logo’d meshback hat, long-sleeved blaze T-shirt, 4 issues of the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine, and more.

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WHY WE HUNT: Member Christian Fichtel, North Carolina

“To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” ~ Aldo Leopold

Christian Fitchel photo (2) (940x1280)I’ve always believed that hunting should be difficult. The act of killing, whether avian or ungulate, carries with it a weight of responsibility that should not be forgotten too quickly. In the Southern Appalachians, the mountains in which I wander, the hunting of the ruffed grouse is, at the very best of times, an exercise in patience and effort.

Each year, my home state of North Carolina collects data from participating hunters and publishes the North Carolina Avid Grouse Hunter Survey. After a peak around 1990, the likelihood of success in our southern mountains has declined in a dramatic way. The odds weren’t good 25 years ago, and even a masochist like myself would have found past numbers sufficiently challenging.

Likely as a result of worsening conditions, the average age of hunters has increased, indicating that fewer young folks are entering the sport. The average hunter in the 2015-2016 season flushed just over 2.5 birds per trip and harvested just over 0.3 of them. Compare this to roughly 6.2 and 0.9 in the 1989-1990 season, respectively, and the decline becomes clear. We sometimes joke that hunting grouse in North Carolina is often little more than an armed hike with dogs.

I was not fortunate enough to know these ‘good old days’ of grouse; having just reached thirty years of age, I have known nothing but the consistently poor conditions we now face. I have, of course, rather conflicted feelings. I know that the hunt is not about the birds, exactly, but about the dogs, the friends, the miles and about the woods themselves. On the other hand, I recognize the obligation that I have to ensure that those who come after still have wild places to wander in search of grouse and other game. And so, we fight for public lands and forest management with the knowledge that while we long to see the results in our own hunting lives, the fight is on behalf of those yet to know the ecstasy of a good dog, an old shotgun, and a thunderous flush from a laurel thicket.

In the early days of state regulation of hunting, Theodore Roosevelt addressed the question of conservation from a perspective not common in his time and not common enough in ours. In discussing the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and the belief that the game belongs to the people, he stated, “so it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction.”

The reasons why I hunt, then, are numerous. I hunt because I enjoy it, even those days when things don’t go my way. On a deeper level, however, I hunt because I recognize that the right to do so is mine by having been born in a nation that once recognized the value of wild places. I hunt in defiance of those who work to dismantle those rights and strip future generations of the privilege of experiencing this difficulty and required self-reliance. I hunt for those in Roosevelt’s womb of time, that they too may one day know the stillness of an Appalachian sunrise, the joy of trusting the judgement of a bird dog more than that of oneself, and the immense sense of gratitude that accompanies a grouse in hand.

To join or for more information about the Ruffed Grouse Society, go to www.ruffed.org.

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Okay, so it’s public . . . Now what?

By Brent A. Rudolph, Ph.D., RGS & AWS Director of Conservation Policy

RGS and AWS are among the most passionate organizations defending the overall benefits of public lands, but we are one of the few voices working to raise awareness and prompt action regarding the poor conservation performance on federal properties with respect to providing young forest habitat.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine

Approximately 1,459,940 comments were received in response to the “Review of Certain National Monuments Established Since 1996” (regulations.gov). You may know this better as “The Bears Ears Brouhaha,” though there’s a chance that only I call it that.

The referenced review is being conducted by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in response to an Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump in April. The review will assess designations of 27 national monuments established since 1996. Other than Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (Katahdin Woods) in Maine (see picture above), all monuments to be reviewed are located in western states or are marine national monuments.

The review of the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah stimulated much of the passionate public response on this topic. Monuments may be designated under authorities granted to the President of the United States since passage of the Antiquities Act of 1906. As is usually the case with national monuments, the lands incorporated into Bears Ears were already in federal ownership, managed under the Bureau of Land Management and United States Forest Service. The proclamation that established Bears Ears referenced the primary resource management motivation that prompted passage of the Antiquities Act in the first place – a need to provide additional protections for lands or features of cultural or historical significance. As is also commonly the case, at least for recently established monuments, Bears Ears was designated by President Barack Obama during his waning days in office on December 28, 2016.

The United States Constitution states that “Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States,” but the Antiquities Act delegated to the president some of this power by giving them authority to designate national monuments. For years there was recognition that artifacts from cultural sites of several local Native American tribes near Bears Ears were being stolen. Tribal activists worked with the Utah congressional delegation on proposals for added protections for these lands, but action never made it through Congress. The infinitely easier process through which a president can designate a monument overcame the stalled deliberations, and represents the primary practical motivation Congress gave this authority to the president, in recognition that some cases would require a quick, sure response to act in time to protect irreplaceable resources under imminent threat. But that doesn’t mean that Congress – and certain groups of their constituents, along with state and local government officials, industry representatives, and presidential successors – can’t still get angry about it when presidents exercise these powers that they’ve been given.

Some of the furor over Bears Ears revolves around the role the Native American tribes should play in the future of these lands (with different ideas ranging from advising to co-managing to being entirely excluded), as well as more broadly around the troubled history of United States relations with Native American nations. I don’t label this conflict a brouhaha to downplay the gravity of these issues. Other concerns relate to the controversy regarding the values of conservation on public lands compared to development through private ownership, and I don’t wish to diminish the importance of having a reasoned public dialogue regarding that topic. Amidst this wave of passion that has hopefully elevated public attention on considering the value of our public lands, an opportunity is being swept away to acknowledge their importance to conservation, their benefits for sustaining our national sporting heritage, yet the need to do more to ensure their full potential is truly realized.

A quick 2,700 mile drive to the northeast, Katahdin Woods stands as a true monument to this need to do more. In most cases, monument boundaries are designated around lands that have long been controlled by the federal government. However, the Antiquities Act also states that designations may essentially be applied to lands at the time they are “relinquished to the Federal Government.” The private donors of these lands in Maine were initially interested in establishing a National Park. Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) and American Woodcock Society (AWS) staff met with and advised local land managers and consultants that worked on the transition of these lands through what was ultimately the monument designation. We conveyed the need for, potential approaches to, and benefits of even-age forest management to sustain abundant game and non-game wildlife, provide high quality hunting, and contribute to the local timber and outdoor recreation economies. When these lands were gifted and shortly thereafter designated by President Barack Obama on August 24, 2016, the proclamation did commit to maintaining public hunting access on more than half of the approximately 87,500 total acres within the monument. Among the 1,459,940 comments submitted on the overall national monument review, RGS/AWS input conveyed our thanks and support for this commitment to sustain hunting access to these portions of Katahdin Woods, but noted “protecting hunting access to these areas and to public lands in general will prove a hollow gesture without ensuring they provide high quality habitat.” The serious oversight was in making no provision to engage in forest management at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Even where federal lands are clearly open for and even encouraged to engage in active forest treatments, far too many obstacles are preventing appropriate, scientifically sound habitat management from occurring. While 53 percent of the bird species that breed in shrub-dominated or young forest habitats have declined within the eastern United States and Canada since 1980, the public dialogue is all too often getting bogged down in arguments over whether land should remain public or not. Amidst all of these arguments, shouting over the case of national monuments is particularly distracting. These lands already were in or destined for federal ownership. Modifying boundaries or conditions of designations, or even eliminating designations entirely (which at least some legal experts contend is not within the president’s scope of authority) would not change their ownership status. RGS and AWS are among the most passionate organizations defending the overall benefits of public lands, but we are one of the few voices working to raise awareness and prompt action regarding the poor conservation performance on federal properties with respect to providing young forest habitat.

Secretary Zinke could work with the Administration through this review to modify the designation, or else provide explicit direction that the management plan that will be required for Katahdin Woods will include objectives to apply even-age forest management to sustain habitat. Our comments also conveyed interest in being considered a potential source of support for habitat management in collaboration with local managers and neighboring property owners, or of assistance to the Secretary and the Department to communicate to the public the important responsibility our resource managers have to provide active stewardship of these public trust resources. As our members and supporters, I hope you’ll add your voices to ours in calling for reasoned dialogue and real action to address this conservation shortfall.

Contact: Brent A. Rudolph, Ph.D., RGS/AWS Director of Conservation Policy, (517) 980-4570, BrentR@RuffedGrouseSociety.Org

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