Take a look at the successful creation of habitat and conservation in Minnesota forests with the Ruffed Grouse Society and American woodcock Society
If you’re reading this post in the great state of Minnesota, it’s likely that you may have spent time grouse hunting in Minnesota forests. And if it also feels like Minnesota has it pretty good when it comes to grouse habitat and populations, you wouldn’t be wrong. In part, that’s due to your continued support of Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society (RGS/AWS). Our staff are involved in several important conservation programs to increase and improve habitat across Minnesota – not just for grouse and woodcock, but many other wildlife species too.
Habitat work on Minnesota Forests
To support grouse populations, we need high quality habitat, which comes from responsible forest management. RGS/AWS biologists currently participate in several grant and funding programs that are used to accomplish important habitat goals in Minnesota.
Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council Collaboration
In 2019, RGS/AWS joined the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Society in sponsoring and supporting a successful $2.4 million Roving Habitat Crew application to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC). Testifying before the LSOHC on September 4, RGS Forest Conservation Director Jon Steigerwaldt advocated that this project is one he wished would be implemented across his four-state territory. The goal of the project is to address many of the forested and non-forested habitats that are vital for ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, and American woodcock. However, the area where this work will occur (i.e., Laurentian Mixed Forest Province) is home to over 170 species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) according to Steigerwaldt, which could also benefit from the habitat enhancements. The 3-year grant will eventually support roving crews of habitat-focused DNR employees that will work on timber management, shrub-land management, invasive species management, and prescribed burning across 3,250 acres. These are projects that can’t always be handled through traditional forest management.
Minnesota Conservation Partners Legacy Grant Program
Currently, RGS/AWS is managing three different Minnesota Conservation Partners Legacy (CPL) grants, which bring nearly $550,000 in landscape-level habitat and forest management impact to northern Minnesota forests. Approximately 2,470 acres will be or have been improved via alder shearing, non-commercial timber harvests, brush management, forest regeneration, thermal cover enhancement, and wildlife openings. These grants are creating hunting opportunities across the Northland, including Aitkin, Beltrami, Koochiching, and Cass counties; the Grand Rapids Area and Two Harbors; and the Little Marais Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Littlefork River WMA, Carlos Avery WMA, Roseau River WMA, Whitewater WMA, and the Meadow Brook WMA to name a few. There are plans to continue this grant opportunity into 2020 with a new aspen harvest project application near Cambridge, MN, which would bring grouse hunting opportunity closer to the Twin Cities and help create woodcock flyover habitat.
Hunter Walking Trails
Along with these grant opportunities, RGS/AWS also has a $300,000 Hunter Walking Trail grant application being considered for funding in the next few months. The project could be funded over the next three years, and the goals are to (1) restore 200 trail heads and 80 miles of existing trails, (2) add about 20 miles of new trails, and (3) update trail maps for land managers and users. Hunter walking trails are a great way for you to access different public lands, often through WMAs or Ruffed Grouse Management Areas (RGMA).
RGS/AWS has also entered a $58,000 stewardship agreement with the Chippewa National Forest to collaborate on a hunter walking trail complex near Cass Lake. The project would improve about 98 acres total through habitat work and timber harvests, but it would also maintain (i.e., mow) about 18 miles of trails and include over 10 gates. As part of the agreement, the local community would be able to retain the forest product revenue and reinvest it into managing the forest for grouse habitat.
How to Get Involved in Forestry Conservation in Minnesota
While it’s nice to know what RGS/AWS staff are working on, it’s also good to realize what you can do as a private landowner to improve grouse habitat. Whether you’re interested in doing a timber harvest on your land or you want to plant fruiting shrubs for grouse, you can always reach out to one of our biologists. They can provide resources and feedback for your situation to get you on the right track. Better yet, discuss it with them in person at a local event.
Likely the most fun way for you to get involved is to attend local chapter events and support RGS/AWS at annual banquets. On April 3, 2020, for example, the Grand Rapids (MN) Area Chapter is hosting its 41st Annual Conservation & Sportsmen’s Banquet. To find a complete list of Minnesota events this spring, visit our events page here. Your sponsorship and/or attendance at these events helps support the important conservation work we do.
Alternatively, chapters also organize pint nights or “Birds and Brew” events where you can get to know local hunters and meet RGS/AWS staff members. As if you needed another excuse to spend an evening discussing grouse and woodcock habitat, bird dogs and shotguns with friends. We hope to see you at an event soon.
How the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society Have made a Difference in Minnesota Conservation
The bottom line is that RGS/AWS is making a measurable impact in Minnesota forests. All told, these programs amount to well over $3 million in forest management and habitat improvement, which is only part of the RGS/AWS mission that your continued membership and donations support. While RGS/AWS is a relatively small organization, that doesn’t stop us from accomplishing big things on the landscape. With your continued support, we will keep working with partners to improve habitat and retain ruffed grouse and woodcock in the north country.