Grouse enthusiasts are abuzz this week with hunting seasons in full swing and recent press releases from key states. Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan shared 2018 West Nile Virus testing results after an unexpected laboratory delay (details can be found here).
I read the reports, completed phone interviews with reporters and braced myself. When West Nile Virus appears in the news, it can even eclipse dog breed and shotgun choice “discussions” in level of interest and disagreement. Justifiably so. The appearance of a new disease threatening our beloved ruffed grouse is reason for concern.
So, did these recent bulletins shed any light?
We are gaining a better understanding of West Nile Virus. Although it takes time (and I’m not very patient), good science is vital. Sure, there is more to learn but I believe we have “actionable intel” at this point. In other words, we know enough to get proactive against this disease. Here are the facts as we know them:
1.) West Nile Virus definitely affects ruffed grouse.
2.) Impact can vary across years, with some years worse than others.
3.) Grouse can bounce back after infection, perhaps indicating some immunity.
4.) Individual grouse, and overall populations, seem better able to recover from WNV in good habitat.
5.) Broad scale lack of forest diversity means we have sub-optimal habitat (whether you’re in Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire or north Georgia).
My favorite part of science is getting down to the management implications, so what does all this mean to us as conservationists? The answer is still habitat! Our highest value mission in the face of West Nile Virus is habitat conservation. Same as it ever was. Certainly, RGS/AWS will continue to support WNV research, but in the meantime, we won’t wait around for the next test results. Instead, we’re doubling down on habitat management. Let’s go!
~Ben C. Jones