Grouse

Roadside ruffed grouse surveys completed this spring show statewide drumming activity increased 41% between 2018 and 2019. That increase aligns with the generally predictable grouse population cycle.

The large increase in 2019 has made up for much of the unanticipated decline seen in 2018 drumming surveys and appears to put Wisconsin back on track for approaching the next cyclical high in the ruffed grouse population.

“Grouse are an important resource to Wisconsin’s outdoor enthusiasts and economy,” said Mark Witecha, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources upland wildlife ecologist. “As we enter the brood rearing season, weather conditions over the coming weeks will be critical in determining what grouse enthusiasts see in the grouse woods this fall, but increased drumming activity is a good sign that there were more breeding grouse on the landscape this year.”

Roadside surveys to monitor the number of breeding grouse have been conducted by staff from the DNR, U.S. Forest Service, tribal employees, and numerous grouse enthusiasts and volunteers since 1964.

The survey results showed a 41% increase statewide over 2018 levels. The central part of the state showed an increase of 35% in drumming activity, and the northern forest showed an increase of 48% in drumming activity.

Those two areas comprise the primary grouse range in Wisconsin. Decreases in drumming activity detected by the roadside survey occurred in the southwest part of the state (-17%) as well as the southeast (-50%), but those areas are not within the primary range. The drumming in southwestern and southeastern Wisconsin are at or near historic lows and likely would not significantly add to grouse abundance in the state.

“Ruffed grouse rely on dense, young forest cover resulting from disturbances such as fire and logging,” said Witecha. “Beyond actively managing state-owned lands, Wisconsin DNR is working to provide suitable grouse habitat through collaborative efforts such as the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership and jointly-funded Forest Wildlife Specialist positions with Ruffed Grouse Society and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. Those partnerships provide technical and financial assistance for delivering young forest management on private lands, benefitting ruffed grouse and other wildlife species by helping maintain healthy and diverse forest communities.”

The DNR is working with partners to develop a ruffed grouse management plan. The draft plan will be released for public review later this summer, with associated public meetings to be held during the public comment period.

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