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.

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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.

John NGWH

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

2017-page-GCT-logo

“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:

SportDOG_4c-Orange_Black-text***

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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GROUSE AND WOODCOCK HUNTING GATEWAYS

A focus on simple gateways to grouse hunting can recruit our next generation of hunters.

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

DSC_0127We always hear about perceived barriers to entry purportedly inherent in grouse and woodcock hunting. “There are no birds around, and it’s hard to find them. The cover is so thick, too hard and strenuous. When you do find birds, the shots are impossible. Guns are intimidating, and I don’t know how to train a bird dog.” Blah, blah, blah.

Grouse hunting is not that scary. Trust me.

We have to flip this negative attitude on its face and take a different approach. Let’s focus on the positives, the advantages and the little things I wrote about in the past spring issue of this magazine that make grouse and woodcock hunting the grand sport we know it is. There is just too much good in what we do that is truly inherent – things like the challenges of the find, cover and shot, our relationship with our bird dogs, the skill of shooting, the history of the hunt, the literature and art, and of course the legacy we leave for the next generation. That last entry is the key, if recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) is important to you as a grouse and woodcock hunter and to RGS and AWS as organizations, positive promotion is essential.

As you know, R3 is important to us and can easily be seen by the New Hunter Mentor Program, Women’s Intro to Wingshooting Program and the upcoming RGS Leadership Academy. RGS and AWS Director of Member Relations and Outreach Mark Fouts has been aggressively attending recruitment conferences and reviewing other programs to learn best techniques and to enhance our programs to take them to the next level.

Recently, Mark reported to staff that it is widely apparent in the R3 community that no program exists to promote grouse and woodcock hunting. Can this be? There are programs for turkeys, deer and pheasants, obviously, but not one for grouse and woodcock hunting. Not one.

Again, if the future of our traditions are important to you, you should be proud that RGS and AWS are taking this proactive initiative to be THE LEADING program in the United States to promote what we love to the next generation.

It is not hard to see why these other species are the targets of R3 programs – easy access, stationary targets, and one-and-done experiences. We get back to the perceived barriers to entry and difficulty of grouse and woodcock hunting, but that approach of excluding grouse and woodcock is so narrow-minded and short-sighted, to me. There is just so much more to what we do that is attractive to new hunters.

What about the easily identifiable gateways to upland hunting – maybe dogs, gear, artistry, books, the great taste of birds or the feat of embracing perceived difficulties as a challenge to overcome?

Dogs are certainly a gateway to youth and new hunters upon which we should take advantage to recruit new hunters. Our relationships with our dogs is a pinnacle, and who doesn’t love a bird dog puppy?

DSC_0130Upland art and writing are also gateways to our sport, and this is readily apparent through quick view of social media channels these days. The art is attractive, exciting, fun and a challenge in itself. Artistry and writing are great practices to keep hungry hunters in the moment all year long, and it is attracting new hunters too. One example of the power of upland art as a gateway to loving our sport is Edith Chamberlain, the daughter of my hunting buddy Laurence, who was inspired by upland art on Instagram to start drawing images of grouse, woodcock and bird dogs on her own. At 12 years old, I think her work is extremely impressive, and I have no doubt she will continue to carry her interest with her father into the grouse and woodcock woods soon.

I also think just promoting the challenge of grouse hunting can be a gateway instead of a negative. “Don’t take the easy way out, hunt grouse.” The challenges of the cover, birds and shot make a bird in hand so much more fulfilling when it happens, and when it doesn’t, it is easy to honor the bird with respect for offering the challenge and succeeding.

The beauty of this banter is that the RGS and AWS R3 programs are doing just this – taking advantage of these gateways through educating new hunters on hunting history, finding habitat, identifying birds, bird dog basics and care, shooting safety and skills – all the things that tell the comprehensive story of grouse and woodcock  hunting and topics about which people really care and respect. The Ruffed Grouse Society magazine is a great resource for new hunters on grouse literature and art, classic grouse stories, habitat and hunting how-to articles, gear, guns, books, cooking and more.

Instead of the negative, what if we said, “I love the challenge of finding birds. I feel an accomplishment when a bird is flushed. I love the challenge of grouse cover.  I take pride in traversing cover that others decline. Give the bird respect for evading the hunter after a difficult miss. They earned it. And, one bird in hand is a feat upon which to be proud.”

That’s the experience I want to have, and if we use this approach and focus on gateways to grouse and woodcock hunting, I think other new hunters will feel the same way.

To join or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org.

DSC_0115Illustrations by RGS Junior Member Edith Chamberlain, 12 years old, Brainerd, Minnesota.

This editor note was first published in the Summer 2017 issue of the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine.

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WHY WE HUNT, Member Drew Phipps

” . . . it is disturbing to me that there are so few grouse left in the woods here. I often wonder if I will be the last person to walk some of the coverts I hunt. I wonder how many before me have had the same thought? I take hope in the fact that there are still a few folks with dogs fighting the laurel and would like to see more of those people in the future.”

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***

I was asked by a friend a few weeks ago if I enjoyed failure. This was shortly after I recounted the highlights of last year’s West Virginia grouse season. I laughed it off at the time, but it does make me wonder, after a season of several hundred miles of walking and no birds taken . . .  was it worth it? My answer now and I hope always is: absolutely. The reason I hunt grouse has nothing to do with birds in hand. I hunt grouse because I’m an adrenaline junkie. I have yet to find a sensation that can match the electric moment just before a flush. The moment when dog, man and bird are all awaiting the same release.

Along the way I have come to learn a great deal about the beauty of a young forest and the companionship of a dog. It was a stray setter rescued by myself that pulled me from the couch in my home in Western Virginia and back into the grouse woods. And things have not been normal around my house since that day.

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As much as it has been written and talked about, the feel of walking through a covert with a dog is indescribable. The smell of autumn leaves in your nose is one I hope everyone gets to experience, and I never have to forget. I am to grouse hunting what Walter Matthau was to baseball (Bad News Bears), and my three setters can be unruly at times, but we have made a lot of unusual memories.

I was introduced to grouse hunting as a teenager. My cousin owned the finest German shorthaired pointer I have had the privilege of hunting behind, and I knew from the moment the first bird left the ground that I was in trouble. I had found a sport with so many variables that it would take a lifetime to concur.

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Shooting the first grouse in front of my dog Penny was the culmination of two years of hard work by both parties, and I consider it to be one of my greatest achievements – not to mention what a rush it was. Lack of habitat, and therefore birds, has hindered the development of both dog and man.

We have, however learned a few things, such as puppies like yellowjacket nests, and the birds we hunt here in central Appalachia are most certainly not gentlemen, nor can a gentleman pursue them. On a more serious note, it is disturbing to me that there are so few grouse left in the woods here. I often wonder if I will be the last person to walk some of the coverts I hunt. I wonder how many before me have had the same thought? I take hope in the fact that there are still a few folks with dogs fighting the laurel and would like to see more of those people in the future.

To join or for more info, go to www.ruffed.org.

 

 

 

 

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WHY WE HUNT, Member Morgan Wolfe

IMG_0884 (1280x853)” . . . and part of the reason I hunt is because I love the bonds that this sport creates. The bond between a man or woman and a dog, the bond between fellow hunters, and the bond between the hunter and the hunted. Being able to share a hobby and passion with the ones I love means everything to me.” RGS Member Morgan Wolfe

***

I remember the first grouse flush I ever saw.  It was in a New Hampshire cover we call “Spilled Milk”.  The dairy farmer who owned the land passed away a long time ago, but before he did he left an old milk can down by the river.  It’s on its side as if it spilled the milk, and it’s near a tremendous amount of Japanese knotweed.  We find woodcock are in there, but further up where the feeder stream joins the river are some old apple trees.  We always work the cover counter-clockwise beginning with the knotweed and woodcock and closing out with the apples and grouse.

One late season we scratched a few woodcock in the knotweed.  But up by the apples, my setter Rowdy got birdy and stopped.  A grouse blasted from the base of the tree and my passion for that bird was lit.

But it wasn’t always that way.  As a native North Carolinian my outdoor passions began with horseback riding.  Freshwater and saltwater fishing followed, and ultimately I learned to shoot rifles and shotguns.  While I love to shoot pistols, I was most curious about bird hunting.  I think it’s partly because I saw how excited my step dad got for fall.  If you know him, Tom Keer, then you know he’s obsessed with bird hunting.  My friends call Tom “the guy in the woods with the whistle and all the dogs wearing cow bells”.

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To me, he is my mentor, my hunting and fishing buddy, and part of the reason I hunt is because I love the bonds that this sport creates. The bond between a man or woman and a dog, the bond between fellow hunters, and the bond between the hunter and the hunted. Being able to share a hobby and passion with the ones I love means everything to me. Upland bird hunting is a hard sport and it takes hard work, patience and perseverance. But the moment all your hard work pays off, the reward becomes so much greater than the struggle.

I hunt grouse because I can do it all year long.  Maybe not the actual hunting part, that’s only for a few months, but the other aspects, too.  Training our four English setters is my favorite activity, and working through their commands, whistle training them, staunching them up with check cords and the like.  I take care of our gear which includes waxing chaps and boots, stitching vests, and cleaning guns. I love to shoot clays whether it’s at our local gravel pit using Tom’s Parker VH 20 side-by-side or my mom’s Beretta 28 gauge over/under.

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Grouse hunting is learning experience, and every time I hunt I learn something new.  Sometimes I see Tom match a particular dog to a cover based on the way the dog hunts, while other times we study topo maps to find new coverts.  The hard work pays off when the dogs lock up on point and either a grouse rumbles out or for a woodcock whistles.  It’s cool to see bore holes along dirt roads and chalk in the woods and to find grouse in Hawthornes, briar tangles, near Goldenrod and other areas.

I’m a sophomore in college, so it’s a little difficult to get out in the woods.  Last year I only snuck in two days and it poured rain for both.  We went anyway, because that’s all the time I had.  When school gets busy and I don’t have time to hunt much, it impacts my mood and my personal well being.  It’s probably because I don’t get to spend as much time with some of my favorite people and dogs doing what I love to do most of all. So I look forward to making the most of this upcoming bird season and maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll shoot my first Carolina grouse this fall.

To join or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org

 

 

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