Proposed Early Closure of Wisconsin Grouse Season


WI GrouseThe well-being of ruffed grouse and our cherished hunting opportunities are of utmost importance to you, members of the Ruffed Grouse Society. As you may know, Wisconsin agencies are considering an emergency early closure of the upcoming grouse season, and we want to keep you completely informed on this process and opportunities for you to participate. Voicing your opinion is so important and it can make a difference for the future of habitat and hunting. Below, please find more information on the process, and how you can get involved.

 

POSITION ON EARLY CLOSURE

The use of science-based information to support management decisions is a tenet of RGS/AWS. You can find our position statement regarding the proposed early closure on this page. Find more information HERE.

 

PROCESS AND PUBLIC COMMENT

The next agency meeting in the process is on August 7 with more to follow. Find more information on future meetings and how you can submit your comments HERE.

 

WISCONSIN GROUSE MANAGEMENT PLAN

RGS/AWS welcomes the opportunity to participate in development of a Wisconsin grouse management plan and encourages WI DNR to initiate the process. Find more information HERE.

 

WEST NILE VIRUS TESTING

West Nile Virus may be detrimental to ruffed grouse populations. Although extensive testing of Wisconsin grouse for West Nile has not occurred, DNR will be testing hundreds of grouse this upcoming hunting season. RGS/AWS members can assist in the process by distributing West Nile Virus sampling kits amongst themselves and their fellow grouse hunters. Find how to participate HERE.

 


 

RGS/AWS Position on Proposed Early Closure of Wisconsin Grouse Season

At the June 27, 2018 meeting of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board (NRB), Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff provided an update on the 2017 ruffed grouse harvest information and 2018 spring drumming survey results [https://dnr.wi.gov/About/NRB/2018/June/2018-06-2B1.pdf].

Results indicated an estimated 3.1% decline in ruffed grouse hunters and 29.5% decline in grouse harvest from 2016 to 2017, and 34% decline in ruffed grouse drumming activity from 2017 to 2018. The DNR has no definitive evidence regarding any one or more factors that may be driving these declines.

The NRB wished to initiate an emergency rule process, based on a recommendation from the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, to adjust the 2018-2019 hunting regulations. They originally introduced a motion to close the season on Sunday, January 6, but amended the motion to close the grouse season on November 30. If established, emergency rules are effective for 180 days. An extension of the emergency rule, or establishment of a permanent rule, could be pursued later, but without these actions, the 2019-2020 season structure would revert to the prior regulations.

The Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) appreciates the attention the Conservation Congress, NRB, and DNR are giving to this issue. While there was a decline in ruffed grouse drumming activity from 2017 to 2018 (despite the next anticipated peak cycle peak expected to occur around 2019-2021), such a decline during the increasing phase of a grouse population cycle is not unprecedented. Further, drumming increased in other parts of the state, and drumming was stable or increased on 22 of the 43 northern region survey routes. Finally, the number of ruffed grouse drums observed per survey stop in the northern forest region in 2018 were still within the historic range of variability on this survey.

Given the level of information available, RGS does not support the proposed emergency rule instating closure on November 30. RGS would support season changes if data suggested a pressing conservation need. We do not believe that is clearly the present case.

In most instances, hunting does not reduce grouse populations significantly lower than the winter carrying capacity (the maximum number sustainable through the winter season by available habitat), so hunting does not substantially affect grouse population trends. Grouse are adapted to add far more young to the population than will ultimately survive, so populations shrink and grow dramatically through the seasons. From 1,000 chicks hatched in late spring, typically about 400 survive to early fall, and just 180 survive to the following nesting season [http://www.ruffedgrousesociety.org/grouse-facts].

Prior Wisconsin research [https://www.jstor.org/stable/3808983?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents] concluded ruffed grouse populations could be suppressed by high hunting mortality where immigration is impeded by fragmented habitat. The study area for this prior research consisted of a highly fragmented mix of forest, cropland, and pasture, and the years of research coincided with the all-time peak in Wisconsin statewide grouse harvest, with several years in excess of 1 million birds harvested. These conditions do not currently apply throughout the state. Following a 62.4% decline in ruffed grouse hunters and 61.6% decline in days hunted since the peak in the late 1980s, recent year harvests have been less than 300,000 (and the past year, less than 200,000). Interest and participation in grouse hunting must be sustained to continue to engage the public in the most effective way to address grouse population concerns, through habitat improvement. Typically, late season hunting has at most the potential to impact local grouse numbers where high hunting pressure is sustained after grouse concentrate around limited accessible food resources or cover. If the NRB wishes to be responsive to public concerns regarding these potential impacts, the originally proposed January 6 closure presents a better alternative.

A better opportunity to address any future need for harvest restrictions is through development of a statewide ruffed grouse management plan, to which the DNR has recently committed. RGS stands fully committed to engaging in that process, as well as to aiding DNR in West Nile Virus surveillance. We look forward to working with our members, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, Department of Natural Resources, and Natural Resources Board to pursue a constructive path forward to promote healthy forests, abundant wildlife, and sporting traditions in the face of these concerning current conditions.

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Meeting Procedure and Opportunities for Public Comment

WISCONSIN PROCEDURE DETAILS

Natural Resources Board Regular Meeting
Aug. 7 - 8, 2018
Green Bay
With the initiation of the emergency rule process, the Wisconsin DNR (DNR) must now prepare a Statement of Scope, which is the official public notice of intent to begin the development of a rule. After securing approval of the DNR Secretary and Governor, the Statement of Scope will be reviewed at an August 8 Natural Resources Board (NRB) regular meeting in Green Bay.

Department of Natural Resources Public Hearing
Sept. 6, 2018
DNR Service Center, Rhinelander
A Public Hearing/Informational meeting was held to present information to the public about the proposed early season closure and gather public (including RGS) testimony.  The public was then able to provide comments and their opinion related to the season closure through an online survey.  The results of that public survey were that 55% supported no change to the season, 37% were for closing the season on November 15th, and 8% had no opinion either way.  886 people responded to that survey and/or provided testimony.

Natural Resources Board Regular Meeting
Sept. 25 - 26, 2018
Flat Creek Inn & Suites, Hayward
The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board meeting will convene at 8:30 a.m. in Rooms A and B (Grand Ballroom) at Flat Creek Inn & Suites, 10290 Highway 27 South, Hayward.  The Board will act on items 1-2 and 5-6 as listed on the Agenda.  This includes the Request adoption of Emergency Board Order WM-13-18(E) for proposed rules affecting chapter NR 10 related to establishing an early close to the 2018 ruffed grouse season.  The NRB will listen to testimony from the public and vote to either adopt, reject, or amend the proposal at that time.

The NRB Agenda, list of those giving public testimony/comment, and public appearance list can be found here: https://dnr.wi.gov/About/NRB/2018/Sept/September-2018-NRB-agenda.html

PUBLIC COMMENT

The Public Commenting Period is now closed.  Final comments and registering to speak at the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board meeting pertaining to the 2018 season closure closed September 21st. 2018. THANKS GOES OUT TO THOSE MEMBERS WHO HAVE PROVIDED PUBLIC COMMENT, MADE IT TO MEETINGS, AND VOICED THEIR CONCERNS.  WE ARE HUMBLED WITH THE LEVEL OF MEMBER INVOLVEMENT THROUGHOUT THIS PROCESS.

RGS will keep members posted on the final decision with a press release after the September 26th meeting.

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Support for Wisconsin Grouse Management Plan

At the June 27, 2018 Wisconsin Natural Resources Board (NRB) meeting, discussion also occurred among a representative of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, the NRB, and Wisconsin DNR (DNR) staff regarding concern that the DNR lacks a ruffed grouse management plan. The Conservation Congress requested that DNR immediately begin developing a robust, comprehensive grouse management plan, to include input from partners. The DNR indicated intent to engage their Grouse Advisory Committee (on which the Ruffed Grouse Society is represented) and develop a plan within the next two years, but the NRB asked that the plan be completed in less time than that. The Ruffed Grouse Society concurs that a grouse management plan is needed and looks forward to being involved in this process. A sound plan would provide a better opportunity to develop criteria for how indices or measures of population abundance, disease prevalence, and habitat conditions could trigger specific changes to hunting regulations, prioritize resources for research, monitoring, and habitat management, and engage the conservation and hunting communities in efforts to benefit grouse management.

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West Nile Virus Testing and Participation

West Nile Virus (WNV) could contribute to suppressed ruffed grouse populations in Wisconsin. The DNR has not yet confirmed WNV infection of grouse through laboratory tests. While they do believe Wisconsin grouse have been exposed to WNV, they have no information available to evaluate the potential population-level impact. The Wisconsin DNR is completing a WNV surveillance project proposal including the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) as a collaborator. RGS members will assist in distributing WNV sampling kits to active grouse hunters around the state, and hunters will be provided instructions for collecting and submitting samples. RGS staff will also assist with public communications regarding WNV and surveillance efforts, and may provide some financial support. Distribution of information on how to obtain sampling kits and how to further participate will be distributed to members as early as late July.

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Mission Statement

Established in 1961, the Ruffed Grouse Society is North America's foremost conservation organization dedicated to preserving our sporting traditions by creating healthy forest habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other wildlife. RGS works with landowners and government agencies to develop critical habitat utilizing scientific management practices.

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