2016 GROUSE CAMP TOUR – Virginia/Tennessee

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Virginia/Tennessee

Grouse/woodcock hunters are speaking for the wildlife that cannot speak for themselves – influencing forest management on public lands.

Only partially down the Tennessee mountain trail, Parker Street, of the Appalachian Highlands RGS Chapter, pointed to some Rhododendron sandwiched between clear old growth and a more recently managed mountainside. “Right here . . . there ought to be a bird in here, boys,” he urged.

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A mere second after rounding the first thick, green patch, the English setter’s bell went silent, and a quick glance showed the bird dog focused and facing us through a crack in the brush. A few steps toward the point, a red-phased bird flushed our way, leaving a memorable sight through the blue southern sky, all caught on video.

As we gathered admiring the flush, we could distinctly hear a male bird drumming his territorial cadence not 100 yards further into the forest. Parker said, “Well, there ya go . . . where you find habitat, you find birds. This is what they need, the diversity. Imagine what it would be like if we had more of it.”

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Wildlife in the Southern Appalachian Region are in serious need of a larger/stronger voice to create the habitat they require to survive. As RGS often states to members, grouse hunters and the public, “This is why your voice, our voice, makes a difference for the wildlife that can’t speak for themselves.”

Another theme that rang true throughout the region was the optimism for habitat creation, and the word “potential” was repeated multiple times. With thousands of acres of national forestlands, there is significant potential for the future of grouse populations and young forest habitat if science-based forest management is properly completed.

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Last year, RGS took a stand to benefit wildlife in the Southern Appalachian Region by filing a Petition for Rulemaking with the United States Forest Service due to the consistent failure to provide the young forest habitats required by the ruffed grouse, American woodcock, golden-winged warbler and other game and nongame wildlife on national forests throughout the eastern United States.

Unfortunately over the past several decades, individual national forests throughout the eastern United States have met, on average, only 24 percent of forest plan minimum acreage goals for these important young forest habitats.  Not surprisingly, wildlife dependent upon young forest habitats are experiencing substantial population declines on many of our national forests.

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Throughout this process, RGS is closely monitoring the on-the-ground actions and regularly interacting with the Forest Service at local and national levels to ensure that the outlined conservation imperatives are consistently and effectively addressed.

RGS staff, members and dedicated volunteers are actively spreading awareness about the truth behind science-based forest management to those who are uninformed and may battle against the issue of cutting trees on public lands. This is happening from the national to local levels, but the voice could be louder – the larger the contingent supporting healthy forests, the more this education and outreach can influence governmental agencies and the public for future change.

The purpose of the Grouse Camp Tour is to spread awareness about the need for young forest habitat by discussing regional and local habitat creation issues with chapter volunteers. For our Virginia/Tennessee stop, special thanks go to Chris White, Parker Street, Robin and Raymond Cooper, O.J. Chartrand, Steve Stafford, Steve Dula and Tarn Rosenbaum, among others in the Appalachian Highlands RGS Chapter based in Bristol for helping with the Tour and for donating your time and efforts for the benefit of forest wildlife.

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RGS Digital Media Specialist Seth Heasley, Parker Street, O.J. Chartrand and RGS Director of Communications Matt Soberg.

Also, thanks to SportDOG Brand for being the official dog collar sponsor of this year’s Tour. www.sportdog.com.

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