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    RGS & AWS Northeast Forest Conservation Update

    A primer for those curious about ecological issues impacting the Northeastern Region of the U.S.

    Photo by Todd Waldron
    Photo by Todd Waldron
    If you and your dog have been covering countless miles through New England’s autumn woods and have only been flushing a fraction of the birds that you used to see – there is a reason for it.

    For generations, the aspen, maple and birch woodlots of New York and New England were revered for their thriving grouse and woodcock populations. Over the past two decades, widespread loss of forest habitat diversity has become an alarming stressor on grouse populations. Ruffed grouse are now identified in 19 states’ wildlife action plans as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), including 6 of the 7 states in our Northeast Region. American woodcock is identified as an SCGN in all 7 states across the Northeast.

    An April 2017 report by the Northeast Upland Gamebird Technical Committee (NUGTC) and titled Ruffed Grouse Population Status in the Northeast found that ruffed grouse populations have declined significantly throughout the Eastern U.S. over the last 30 years. According to this same study, New England has experienced an astounding 30% decline as measured through popular citizen science monitoring and surveys like Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, Breeding Bird Atlas reports, and regional Grouse Hunter Cooperative surveys.

    The NUGTC report ultimately points to “changing land use, changes in forest management practices, and widespread forest maturation” as being key reasons for the loss of high-quality habitat in the grouse woods (1, 2, 3 – sources below). It concludes by calling for aggressive, targeted, large- scale habitat work and broad-ranging multi-state partnerships to address these issues.

    The final conclusion of the 2017 NUGBTC report states: “To fulfill our public trust responsibilities, State wildlife agencies responsible for managing ruffed grouse must re-double our efforts to stop the range contraction and slow population declines of ruffed grouse. To do otherwise compromises our collective mission of ensuring sustainable populations and providing hunting opportunities.”

    RGS & AWS and our partners are fully committed to supporting these efforts to enhance habitat diversity and that is why we are asking for your support – to build a sustainable future for all forest wildlife, including grouse and woodcock. In the next segment of this series on our forest conservation efforts across the Northeast Region, we will explore land ownership patterns and how that will influence our conservation approach in terms of focal areas and needs’ assessments.

    One consideration for how RGS & AWS and our partners will need to approach this challenge is to consider land ownership patterns across the Northeast.

    Who owns the forests of the Northeast, and how much of the land is held by private forest owners and public agencies? How will all of this influence our Northeast Region conservation strategy in terms of focal areas and needs assessments?

    According to the website Who Owns America’s Forest, there are 51 million acres of forests across the seven-state RGS & AWS Northeast Region. To put it in perspective, you could fit 23 Yellowstone National Parks within the northern forest acreage of the Northeast. The ownership patterns of woodlots and forests across New England and New York are as diverse as the communities throughout the region and are distributed as follows:

    Map Source: Alvarez, M., Who Owns America’s Forests,  US Forest Endowment for Forests & Communities
    Map Source: Alvarez, M., Who Owns America’s Forests, US Forest Endowment for Forests & Communities

    The data indicates that non-industrial private forest owners (NIPF) own and enjoy 25 million acres across the Northeast, representing half of the forested acreage in the region. Corporate ownerships manage another 15 million acres, while a mix of federal, state and county agencies hold nearly 10 and a half million acres in trust for the public and future generations to enjoy.

    On a federal level, we have the 421,889 acre Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont & New York and the 750,852 acre White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire and Maine.  

    The following graph depicts all ownership classifications by percentage:


    So, what does this mean? How can RGS & AWS and our partners approach landscape-level, shifting mosaic, full rotation conservation planning that benefit a diverse suite of at-risk forest wildlife, including grouse and woodcock?

    Well, one take-home message is that the forest ownership across the Northeast is incredibly diverse. And each ownership-type will require a unique, thoughtful approach to increasing forest habitat diversity.

    There over 10 million acres of public lands across the region held in trust on a federal, state, county and community level and this represents a huge opportunity in terms of improving habitat on landscapes that are accessible for bird hunting, wildlife viewing, and other outdoor recreation.

    There is also an enormous opportunity and need to engage partners on the private landownership level, both on a corporate and non-industrial level. Our regional conservation approach will consider both public land stewardship and private-ownership habitat needs.

    The author Jeffrey Sachs is noted for saying that “historical and geographic burdens are not fate or destiny. They are calls to action.

    The NUGTC report concludes that in order to restore forest habitat diversity, this action needs to include aggressive and scaled habitat creation initiatives through wide-ranging collaborative partnerships across multiple states.

    How can you help?

    Please join or renew your RGS & AWS membership today by visiting ruffedgrousesociety.org or by calling 888-564-6747.

    Wolfe Publishing Group