Upper Great Lakes Ruffed Grouse Symposium
On February 25, 2020, Wisconsin hosted an Upper Midwest Ruffed Grouse Symposium. This event was geared towards professional wildlife biologists, foresters, and researchers managing ruffed grouse in the Upper Midwest.
In total, 120 professionals from eight different states attended the symposium. The day was well rounded with talks on current research, management efforts, and planning. Discussions also focused on learning about factors impacting ruffed grouse such as disease, policy, forest product market trends and climate.
Discussing landscape level habitat management as well as research needs, professionals sought to get on the same page before identifying the next steps towards managing ruffed grouse across the region. RGS President and CEO Ben Jones opened the symposium by delivering a keynote speech where he discussed habitat and population trends and the need for a transformative landscape level approach to managing habitat at scale. RGS Conservation and Legislative Officer Brent Rudolph also spoke about the need for further collaboration on habitat and policy issues.
As part of the planning committee, RGS helped steer the day’s discussion and focus wildlife managers on topics that resonate with members.
Regional Problems, Perspectives, and Solutions
Rounding out the rest of the ruffed grouse symposium, participants heard talks on aspen harvest and utilization trends in the lake states; the importance of private forest in managing ruffed grouse; teaching the next generation of foresters to manage timber for wildlife; trends in ruffed grouse detection and abundance; and the history of the sandhill ruffed grouse management project, among others.
The overall tone from managers is a shared agreement that regionally, we have an uphill battle and need landscape level solutions, monitoring, and management. This won’t come down to small habitat projects unless they fit into a larger landscape level plan and vision.
An eye-opening portion of the day came for many when Ben Jones presented the linked graphic from our partners at The Audubon Society. Ben talked about how the graphic illustrates and research shows the real trouble ruffed grouse are in under a changing climate. Ben also talked about how building upon past research and current knowledge, we know that diversifying our forests can help build resiliency to climate change and that we shouldn’t just throw in the towel.
Speaking on legislative issues, Brent Rudolph also received praise from Forest Service staff for RGS’s assistance with the “Fire Borrowing” issue we brought to member attention back in 2018. He highlighted the need for successful collaboration between scientists, managers, conservation groups, and hunters to move the needle in the right direction, as opposed to the past status quo of confrontation and divisiveness.
Heather Shaw summed it up best by adding, “Now is not the time to be adversarial on these issues when hunters and managers are seeing eye to eye on what’s at stake and when there is common ground to gain towards effective management.” Collaboration has been a repeating message that RGS and our partners want to continue to deliver, she said, adding that “Decisions we make now have a direct impact on the future of the resources and traditions we are passionate about.”
Ruffed Grouse Symposium Held in a Paper Town
Held in the paper town of Wisconsin Rapids with two paper mills located a block away, the importance of the forest products industry in creating ruffed grouse habitat wasn’t lost on symposium participants.
As part of the symposium Rick Horton from Minnesota Forest Industries, Inc. (an association representing 12 of Minnesota’s primary forest products companies) gave a compelling talk about current market trends and the importance of the Lake States forest products industry in managing ruffed grouse habitat.
And quickly, the importance of the Wisconsin Rapids Verso paper mill to the creation of ruffed grouse habitat on a landscape level in Wisconsin became apparent. The day after the symposium, Jon Steigerwaldt, Dan Hoff, and Jared Elm, all of RGS/AWS, met with Kris Gray, a procurement forester for Verso, to discuss hurdles and barriers to forest management in the state and to tour the facility. Kris also helped provide some interesting insight on the forest management impacts a mill like the Wisconsin Rapids mill has on forest management.
Set on the banks of the Wisconsin River (said to be the hardest working river in the United States), Verso Pulp, Power, and Recovery Plant and Verso Corporation combined represents the largest paper making facility in the state. Employing some 800 employees and 500 wood suppliers, the mill is capable of processing 1.7 million tons of pulpwood a year (about 57,000 log truck loads worth). Kris mentioned that the average timber sale in Wisconsin is about 800 tons and only contains enough wood to run the mill for about four hours.
Processing aspen, mixed hardwood, oak and pine, Kris estimates the mill is responsible for approximately 50,000 acres of forest management completed in the state each year (thinning and regeneration harvests). And with the vast majority of the forest land in the state under private ownership, the importance of engaging private landowners in active forest management in not just creating good paying family jobs but also creating wildlife, can’t be understated. It’s all part of the supply chain when it comes to sound sustainable forest management.
Next Steps Identified at Ruffed Grouse Symposium
Wildlife managers, grouse researchers, and biologists are in agreement: we need to start thinking on a landscape level and how everyone’s efforts dovetail together to accomplish the transformative changes we need to support healthy forests for ruffed grouse. We need to stop being reactionary and start being proactive. We need to start thinking of ways we can make that transformative change by advocating for the forest products industry through a national campaign to inform consumers on their choices for products as well as working with legislators and local economic development to incentivize investment in the forest products industry and eliminating barriers to management.
There is a need for RGS/AWS to transition from small scale habitat projects to partnering with public land managers to play a key role on the ground through assisting with large scale projects and planning and by observing forest industry and land ownership trends to understand how RGS/AWS can be additive to the bigger picture of conservation at scale on a landscape level.
These topics and more were recapped in a recent Project Upland podcast episode featuring Ben Jones, Brent Rudolph, and Forrest Gibeault recorded at the symposium.