by Benjamin C. Jones
Some believe that ruffed grouse transcend the natural world – that they’re a bellwether of forest health and beyond. Three such conservationists, Seybert Beverage, Bruce Richardson and Dixie Shumate, founded the Ruffed Grouse Society sixty years ago.
That’s a big deal, and the milestone has been at the forefront of my mind as we cross into 2021. How do we appropriately honor 60 years?
Stay True to Our Core Tenets
Without question, learning about ruffed grouse conservation was always at the forefront. “When we got involved in the Society, we weren’t [only] interested in promoting grouse shooting. Even back then, we were concerned with discovering what we could about improving cover,” according to Bruce Richardson, RGS’s first President.
Early action spoke volumes, as the founders sought knowledge about grouse and ways to improve habitat for all woodland wildlife.
Promoting science-based forest and wildlife management was, and still is, the base foundation on which we make every decision. We can never stray from the science and the “ahead of their time” vision that has been wholly supported by generations of RGS members.
In 1961, forestry and wildlife were relatively new disciplines. Gordon Gullion had just started decades of research on ruffed grouse biology. Greg Sepik would soon launch research on Moosehorn, providing a “how-to” for woodcock habitat. We were in a golden age of learning, and RGS shouldered the role of supporting research and getting information to professionals making it happen on the ground. Publications like “Managing Northern Forests for Wildlife” and “A Landowner’s Guide to Managing Woodcock in the Northeast” are but a few examples of works supported by RGS that are still guiding forest managers today.
These early years set the path to support good science and see to its implementation on the ground. That’s who we are and what we do. Yet we’ve never sat back and rested on our laurels because there’s another essential part of honoring sixty years …
Ensure Present Day Relevance to the Mission
As we’ve crossed the decades, new challenges have always been confronted as opportunities. The Management Area Program (MAP) and Grouse Enhanced Management Sites (GEMS) were founded to support public land habitat. The Coverts Program followed suit on private lands. RGS hired conservation delivery staff with the first regional biologists. Policy advocacy became engrained, with RGS biologist Dan Dessecker among leaders forging American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP) – a collaborative that remains active in Washington D.C. to this day. Ever-changing science needs were pursued, like the Appalachian Cooperative Grouse Research Project and West Nile Virus monitoring. The organization supported new opportunities to give timberdoodles their fair share with the founding of the American Woodcock Society.
The point of this brief (and admittedly incomplete) walk through time isn’t to recount details but to remind us how we’ve adapted, and thus remained impactful, over six decades.
We certainly can’t stop now!
Today, and Forward
We’re at a conservation crossroads unlike anything in our lifetimes. The nation’s leading scientists find it necessary to list ruffed grouse and American woodcock as “species of greatest conservation need” across large swaths of their ranges.
In 2020, a biologist working group highlighted the unprecedented decline of ruffed grouse. Their words capture today’s science-based direction:
“It seems probable that grouse populations will continue their rapid decline in the Eastern U.S. unless wildlife agencies, partners, and private landowners undertake immediate conservation efforts. While many jurisdictions are conducting site-specific habitat management for grouse and other early successional species, the grouse decline’s scope and scale calls for a different approach. Large scale strategic planning and prioritized … actions by a diverse cohort of conservation partners will be needed to [sustain] ruffed grouse populations in the Eastern U.S.”
True to form, we’re adjusting to meet the challenge head-on. Our new Forest Conservation Directors are setting up to transition RGS from discrete projects toward the landscape efforts called for by leading biologists. The effort will require funding, and RGS Regional Directors are pursuing new ways to raise conservation dollars. It will take mass communications to deliver our messaging effectively, and we’re building a staff department to raise awareness. As always, it will take the unwavering, passionate support of Ruffed Grouse Society & American Woodcock Society members. Change like this never comes easy, but it’s necessary to conserve grouse, woodcock and all forest wildlife. In the words of Bruce Richardson, RGS’s first president, “For all of us, it was a labor of love.” It remains so today, and pressing forward is how we honor 60 years.