by Jon Steigerwaldt | RGS & AWS Forest Conservation Director – Great Lakes & Upper Midwest
With funding from the Uihlein Foundation, RGS & AWS worked with the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point (UWSP) in the summer of 2019 to create a Ruffed Grouse Habitat Demonstration Area at their Treehaven facility (a 1,300-acre education, demonstration and research facility outside Tomahawk, Wisconsin). Treehaven is a logical location for a demonstration area, as it functions as the summer field station for the College of Natural Resources, where every year, approximately 240 natural resources college students complete field coursework in wildlife management, forestry, land surveying, fisheries management, waters management and soils.
A demonstration area at this location not only creates viable habitat and opportunity for community outreach, but exposes future natural resources professionals to important lessons in forestry and wildlife management early in their careers. Furthermore, since initiating this project, the Treehaven campus has become the Wisconsin Forestry Center, a key asset for continuing education for professionals in the fields of forestry and wildlife management.
Work on this project began in October 2019, when forestry professor and project lead Dr. Michael Demchik offered timber marking training to student chapters of The Wildlife Society and the Society for Ecological Restoration. These students marked reserve trees and boundaries for aspen coppice harvests, as well as marking a small clearcut (replanted after harvest) near areas of existing staggered aspen harvests. Two recipients of student scholarship awards cited this experience as among their most memorable at UWSP.
The harvest units were then either commercially harvested by local logger Kenny Kracklow, or students cut them during their Forestry 396 class, Science of Tree Felling. In addition, a small area of declining balsam fir was cut and planted to a mix of species, and a larger unit to the south of the Treehaven facility was cut with the goal of regenerating aspen. Post-harvest, more than a mile of road was seeded with a test mix of all native species of herbs, forbs and grasses that will be monitored into the future with hope of developing appropriate seed mixes focused on bugging habitat for birds in different geographic management units with different soil conditions.
In addition, a more traditional 2-acre bugging habitat area was seeded with a clover and native plant mix in late 2020, sprouting in 2021. The site was finished off with interpretive signs funded both through the Uihlein Foundation and the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership. However, as a Habitat Demonstration Area, the dividends of this site hadn’t even begun to pay off.
While Treehaven is an educational field laboratory for 240 natural resources college students annually, we intended to use the site to reach far beyond current students. In December 2020, we highlighted the site as part of a “Timber Marking for Ruffed Grouse Habitat” continuing education webinar hosted for professional foresters interested in learning about managing for ruffed grouse. In May 2021, the site was part of UWSP’s first post-COVID-restrictions in-person continuing education field training (“Timber Marking for Wildlife”) offered to professional foresters and biologists. Both of these events featured presentations by RGS & AWS staff. The site was also featured as one of a collection of sites for a National Advanced Silviculture Program Training Module in 2021. Readers can search YouTube for “Multipurpose Silviculture in Central Wisconsin” to watch.
These continuing education opportunities and training modules were geared toward training natural resources professionals about the importance of managing diverse forests for wildlife to multiply impacts and build a greater conservation ethic. But we also hope to leverage this demonstration area for a broader audience of birders, hunters, private landowners and wildlife enthusiasts. RGS & AWS is working with the Wisconsin Forestry Center to advertise a workshop open to the general public.
Hosted at Treehaven, this workshop will utilize the demonstration area as a main component of the workshop, called “Ruffed Grouse Field Day: From Research to Management.” Workshop participants will locate ruffed grouse using radio telemetry and learn about managing forests for ruffed grouse from RGS & AWS staff. The workshop will be held April 14 and 15, 2023, but if you’ve missed the registration deadline, we hope to hold more of these workshops. To learn more, visit “Ruffed Grouse Field Day: From Research to Management” (uwsp.edu/cnr-ap/WFC/Pages/Ruffed-Grouse-Field-Day.aspx).
By far my favorite outreach outcome related to this project arose when 43 wildlife management students from Purdue University in Indiana toured the site in the summer of 2022 as part of their own summer field coursework. Past Covers magazines informed members about the precipitous decline of ruffed grouse in Indiana, where they were abundant only a few decades ago. As such, Indiana officially listed ruffed grouse as an endangered species in 2020. Ecologists and wildlife experts agree and have identified loss of young forest habitat as a significant contributor to population declines of ruffed grouse and many other wildlife species in Indiana.
Because of their listing, most of the Purdue students had never seen or even heard a ruffed grouse before. Meeting at the Treehaven facility, Stefan Nelson (RGS & AWS Forest Wildlife Specialist), Randee Smith (Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership Coordinator), Jarred Brooke (Purdue Extension Wildlife Specialist) and I guided students around the demonstration area, highlighting the unique ecological requirements of ruffed grouse and talking about forestry, forest products markets and habitat management.
The special part of the tour came at one of the stops we made to discuss brood cover, when a mature drummer decided to start drumming (in the middle of the summer, mind you!), allowing students not only to take management knowledge back to Indiana for the rest of their careers, but with the special memory of hearing a magnificent bird that’s endangered in their home state.
If these dividends from this project weren’t enough, UWSP project lead Dr. Demchik was awarded $613,334 for a Landscape Scale Restoration (LSR) grant with the purpose of including the Treehaven Grouse Demonstration Area and a sister demonstration area for American woodcock near Amherst, Wisconsin (another RGS & AWS project made possible with funding from the Uihlein Foundation) into a larger northern Wisconsin–focused project. This LSR grant project will eventually develop a network of bird habitat-focused forest management demonstration areas in Wisconsin, with the target of incorporating bird habitat into forest management planning.
Keeping to those goals and working directly with the university on monitoring, these demonstration areas have already served as habitat for a variety of migrant neotropical birds. Notable species included: chestnut-sided warblers, white-throated sparrows, golden-winged warblers, common yellowthroats, yellow warblers, indigo buntings and Canada warblers. RGS & AWS greatly thank the Uihlein Foundation, Dr. Michael Demchik, the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership, UWSP student chapters of The Wildlife Society and the Society for Ecological Restoration, Treehaven and the Wisconsin Forestry Center for their assistance in making this project possible.