Featured in Fall 2020 issue of Covers Magazine.
Authored by: Brent Rudolph, PH.D and Anthony Giattino
People born east of the Hudson River extend this prayer of John Winthrop’s when hunting grouse in the west: “May the Lord make it like that of New England.” Writers like Burton Spiller and William Harnden Foster helped enshrine New England as a “City Upon a Hill” for grouse hunters. Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society members in New England recognize that much work needs to be done if the revered heritage memorialized by Spiller and Foster are to endure. Fortunately, other partners also understand the serious conservation needs that demand commitment to this work.
Creating Early Successional Habitat
According to Robert Frost, Vermont is one of the two best states in the Union (the other is New Hampshire). The Green Mountain National Forest, whose jagged peaks hold tucked-away villages in their shadows, covers more than 400,000 acres in southwestern and central Vermont. It’s a draw for tourists seeking the state’s rustic sophistication. Within the forest, conservation partners are currently working on behalf of wildlife as part of the Early Successional Habitat Creation (ESHC) Project. The objectives of the ESHC Project are to increase the acreage of early successional forest growth to provide a variety of habitat conditions for wildlife, increase aspen and birch forest to support species like grouse that prefer those habitats, provide a sustainable supply of forest products and restore and improve wetland resources.
Discussions that evolved into the creation of the ESHC began in autumn of 2016 when Trust for Wildlife reached out to RGS & AWS staff with an opportunity to fund habitat improvement projects in southern Vermont to benefit migratory birds and other wildlife that require young forest conditions. RGS & AWS connected with Green Mountain National Forest staff to discuss habitat improvement opportunities that Trust for Wildlife funds could support.
By 2018, RGS & AWS members and staff raised $40,000 through generous contributions from Orvis and Ugly Dog Hunting, as well as numerous contributions from individual members and supporters. This amount, which was fully matched by Trust for Wildlife, funded field surveys and data collection to make the ESHC Project a reality. The public input process for the ESHC Project proposal began in spring 2018, and the District Ranger issued the final decision notice for the Manchester Ranger District in June of 2019.
The Manchester Ranger District of the Green Mountain National Forest will have approximately 400 acres treated through two timber sales awarded this summer (Old Job and Bully Brook), with two more sales to be laid out and marked in late summer or early fall (South Fork and West River). These will be the first handful of cuts under ESHC Project. The project will continue to guide work over the next fifteen years to create as much as 15,000 acres of young forest habitat on the Manchester Ranger District.
Improving Wildlife Habitat and Forest Health
The goal of regenerating early successional habitat will benefit not only ruffed grouse and woodcock, but also wild turkey, deer, bear, bobcat, snowshoe hare and perching birds (passerines) like eastern bluebirds, chestnut-sided warblers, common yellowthroats, song sparrows and American goldfinches. This is a reminder that the benefits of RGS & AWS conservation work are not limited to providing targets for grouse and woodcock hunters. It also highlights a promising path forward with new, committed partners like Trust for Wildlife.
When William Harnden Foster’s “New England Grouse Shooting” was published in 1942, it was already known that young forests provided the desired and necessary habitat for ruffed grouse. He wrote, “All through the long heath hen and passenger pigeon era pa’tridges were still in the New England woods and pastures, increasing, no doubt, with the clearing of land and the starting up of young growth.” With the persistent efforts of this new partnership, those New England woods and pastures may once again see an increase of the legendary pa’tridge.