The ruffed grouse, a wildlife species beloved and respected by both hunters and nonhunters, is in trouble throughout much of its territory. Indiana, for instance, a state where two to three decades ago grouse were plentiful, late last year listed the ruffed grouse as an endangered species.
A report on the evening news Thursday revealed that in recent times 23 more species of wildlife have gone extinct.
Disappeared forever, never to be seen again on planet earth.
That’s sad to think about, and it would be even sadder if this wild bird of the forests should go that way.
The culprit is always destruction of their habitat – a place where they can live, lay their eggs, raise their young, and thrive. A place where old forests and new forests complement each other.
THE SECRET PLACE
Back in my younger days when I had the stamina to hunt wild grouse, there was this particular stretch of woods where I – hunting without a birddog – never failed to flush three or four grouse.
Did I ever take one home for dinner out of there? No.
Before you started up the wooded hollow, there was a small field where a grove of pine trees grew. One time when a deep snow covered the ground and clung to the limbs of the pines, I had three grouse flush from up in those trees.
They roared to life so far out ahead that I never got a shot.
Beyond the pines began a wooded hollow. A little brook tumbled down through it and steep slopes rose on either side. The stream’s path was interspersed with little glens. In one, I could crawl through underbrush and sit down on a mossy bed, shutout from the rest of the world.
In the small clearing overhead, I saw a flying squirrel glide down from a beech tree. An owl flew across on silent wings, headed home after a night of hunting.
Then came the widening of U.S. 23. The contractor wanted a place nearby where he could dump all that dirt being moved to accommodate the project.
He got it from the landowner of my secret grouse woods. The hollow was filled in. Today there’s just a level, grassy field.
No more little stream. No more grouse.
This was destruction of wildlife habitat in the extreme.
JACK LONDON’S STORY
As a teenager, I sat in that little hideaway and thought of the Jack London short story, “All Gold Canyon,” which I had just read on assignment in school.
The story, which features only two characters, one good and one bad, tells of a prospector who discovered a rich vein of gold in such a mountain glen. He panned some gold from the stream. He began digging at the base of the slope that formed one wall of the dale. The deeper he dug the more nuggets he found. He was on to the mother lode. He dug down so deep that when he stooped it was over his head.
Suddenly an ominous shadow fell across his shoulders. He heard the sound of a revolver being cocked, and he knew he was about to die.
To find out the surprise ending to the tale, if you can’t find the book at the library, you can buy a copy on eBay or Amazon.
RUFFED ROUSE SOCIETY
The Ruffed Grouse Society, along with the American Woodcock Society, of which I am a member of both, is leading the fight to restore suitable habitat and bring the ruffed grouse back. RGS is working with private landowners and national forest officials for better management of forest lands.
The plan involves some clear cutting and some prescribed burns. Some treetops and limbs are left on the ground in designated areas for cover and to keep deer from browsing on new seedlings.
Nick Biemiller, Southern Appalachian Forest Conservation Director the RGS, said a report coming out last year identified that ruffed grouse have declined 71% since 1989 in the Southern Appalachians, which includes eastern Kentucky.
“At the same time, National Forests in the Southern Appalachians contain only 1.3% young forests (trees aged 0 to 20 years),” Biemiller said.
“The situation is clear, active habitat management is not happening at the pace and scale that is needed to sustain grouse and other wildlife populations.”
“We are currently in the process of hiring a Kentucky All-Lands Wildlife Forester and a Virginia Public Lands Wildlife Forester.”
In last year’s financial report, the RGS and the AWS raised just over six and a quarter million dollars from all revenue sources. Of this, 55.2 percent ($3.4 million) came from contributions, 17.6 percent ($1.1 million) from banquets and events, and just over half a million dollars in membership dues.
Under expenses, 83.4 percent ($3.3 million) goes for conservation programs. Only 6.7 percent ($269,000) goes for administration costs.
Society officials say there is an abundance of small trees – desirable hardwood species – growing successfully in their regenerating areas.
It’s difficult to walk in the thick, young forest areas. The harvesting plan being followed has created ideal habitat not only for grouse and woodcock, but for songbirds and deer as well.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.