Smith: Changes brewing in woods won't help grouse

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 10, 2012 - 1:24 AM

A reduction in logging means fewer new aspen trees and older forests, which doesn't bode well for the populations of grouse or deer.

hide

Ruffed grouse

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

What does the Great Recession and the housing market crash have to do with ruffed grouse hunting in Minnesota?

Everything.

The closing of six timber-consuming mills in Minnesota over the past five years has greatly reduced logging and -- if the trend isn't reversed -- will result in an older forest less productive for ruffed grouse and whitetail deer.

"Grouse numbers will go down if timber harvest is curtailed, no question,'' said Ted Dick, Department of Natural Resources grouse coordinator.

Timber harvest has fallen from a peak of 4.1 million cords in 1994 to an estimated 2.5 million cords this year -- a 39 percent drop. Sluggish demand for wood products used in home construction is blamed for most of the drop.

That means about 80,000 fewer acres of forest -- or 125 square miles -- are being cut now.

"That's 800,000 acres over 10 years,'' said Craig Schmid, DNR regional forestry manger in Grand Rapids. "It's significant.''

Grouse reach their highest densities with a variety of aspen age classes, said Dick.

"If all your forest goes into older age classes, grouse densities will drop,'' he said. "If the trend continues, it doesn't bode well for the future of grouse hunting.''

Hardboard or oriented-strand-board plants in Deerwood, Cook, Bemidji, Grand Rapids and Duluth all closed recently, as did a paper mill in Sartell. Some were closed permanently; others could reopen if the economy improves.

Said Wayne Brandt, vice president of the Minnesota Timber Producers Association: "With less wood being cut, that means fewer acres of young forest habitat, and that's bad for grouse and bad for deer.''

And if the forest products industry doesn't cut timber, there are no other management options.

"It's the only tool we have to manage forest cover out there,'' said Schmid. It would be cost-prohibitive for the DNR to cut timber to manipulate wildlife habitat.

Less logging also affects hunter access.

"Most people are walking logging trails,'' Schmid said. "Those will be harder to find.''

The shift in forest habitat won't be quick, because of the slow growth of forests. It takes five to 10 years for grouse to utilize a newly cut area. So ruffed grouse and grouse hunters will find decent habitat in the next few years.

"You won't notice it overnight, but over time the lower timber harvest level will result in less young aspen,'' Schmid said.

"If we stay where we are at, the forest will definitely get older. We're losing more wood fiber to insects and disease, and the overall health of the forest will decline.''

Rocky Gutiérrez, professor at the University of Minnesota's Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, is more optimistic.

"If you believe the economy will never recover, then that's true [grouse numbers will decline]. But if the economy does recover and there's a greater demand for pulp and forest products, then this is a short-term trend.''

And, officials say, biofuels made from timber could drive more logging in the future.

Gutiérrez, a grouse researcher, said besides fluctuations in the forest products industry, the future of ruffed grouse also is dependent on the forest management policies of the state and federal governments, the management of small forest parcels by landowners and the potential long-term effects of climate change on the northern Minnesota forest.

The DNR, for example, is trying to increase the proportion of conifers in the forest by 4 percent to 5 percent to attain a more natural forest, which could impact ruffed grouse.

"Sometimes that's at odds with the deer-grouse people, but it's a relatively small amount,'' Schmid said.

How all of this affects the number of grouse hunters is unknown. But the trend is fewer hunters. As recently as 1998, 142,000 grouse hunters pursued ruffies -- 48,000 more than last year.

But Dick said that regardless of the current trends, grouse and grouse hunting won't disappear.

"It just may not be as good as in some of the heyday years,'' he said.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com

  • related content

  • Grouse opener: Sept. 15

    Saturday September 8, 2012

    Spring ruffed grouse drumming counts were down 46 percent, and it appears the population is descending in its 10-year boom-to-bust cycle.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Team Irvin 32 FINAL
Team Carter 28
Miami 96 FINAL
Chicago 84
Oklahoma City 98 FINAL
Cleveland 108
Dallas 106 FINAL
New Orleans 109
Indiana 106 FINAL
Orlando 99
LA Clippers 120 FINAL
Phoenix 100
Minnesota 100 FINAL
Atlanta 112
Detroit 110 FINAL
Toronto 114
Milwaukee 95 FINAL
San Antonio 101
Boston 111 FINAL
Golden State 114
Washington 117 FINAL
Denver 115
Houston 99 FINAL
LA Lakers 87
Team Toews 17 FINAL
Team Foligno 12
South Florida 53 FINAL
Connecticut 66
Boston College 64 FINAL
Georgia Tech 62
Virginia 50 FINAL
Virginia Tech 47
Indiana 70 FINAL
Ohio State 82
Stony Brook 61 FINAL
Binghamton 54
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
UCF 46
Maine 70 FINAL
Hartford 61
Monmouth 64 FINAL
Manhattan 71
Fairfield 67 FINAL
Marist 73
Rowan 48 FINAL
Princeton 96
St Bonaventure 48 FINAL
Rhode Island 53
Duke 77 FINAL
St Johns 68
Saint Peters 69 FINAL
Siena 55
Drake 40 FINAL
Wichita State 74
Vermont 61 FINAL
UMass Lowell 50
Seton Hall 57 FINAL
Butler 77
NJIT 72 FINAL
South Alabama 55
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Illinois State 53
Louisville 80 FINAL
Pittsburgh 68
UMBC 55 FINAL
Albany 69
Niagara 64 FINAL
Iona 87
Notre Dame 81 FINAL
NC State 78
Belmont 63 FINAL
Tennessee St 55
Creighton 50 FINAL
Villanova 71
Northwestern 67 FINAL
Maryland 68
Washington 56 FINAL
Utah 77
Senior-North 34 FINAL
Senior-South 13
Seton Hall 99 FINAL
Georgetown 85
St Johns 69 FINAL
Villanova 81
Arkansas 58 FINAL
Florida 72
Maine 56 FINAL
UMBC 42
Vanderbilt 55 FINAL
Alabama 52
Lafayette 60 FINAL
Lehigh 65
UCF 61 FINAL
SMU 57
Utah 51 FINAL
Washington 63
James Madison 73 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 53
Delaware 56 FINAL
Drexel 61
Hofstra 56 FINAL
William & Mary 57
Hartford 58 FINAL
Albany 82
Binghamton 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 67
Towson 63 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 71
Wake Forest 80 FINAL
(17) Florida State 110
Georgia Tech 68 FINAL
Virginia 62
(22) Georgia 51 FINAL
(5) Tennessee 59
Drake 79 FINAL
Evansville 62
Iona 80 FINAL
Canisius 62
Fairfield 33 FINAL
Monmouth 59
Northwestern 75 FINAL
Penn State 76
Wisconsin 71 FINAL
Michigan State 77
Ohio State 79 FINAL
Purdue 71
Northern Iowa 57 FINAL
Indiana State 55
Butler 58 FINAL
Xavier 54
Creighton 93 FINAL
Marquette 75
Providence 42 FINAL
DePaul 90
Northeastern 77 FINAL
Elon 80
(2) Connecticut 96 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Oregon 78 FINAL
Arizona 81
Bradley 46 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 45
NC State 49 FINAL
(23) Syracuse 66
(7) Maryland 84 FINAL
Indiana 74
Illinois State 35 FINAL
Missouri State 58
Colorado 68 FINAL
Washington St 73
Tulane 45 FINAL
South Florida 64
(14) Kentucky 83 FINAL
Missouri 69
(9) Oregon State 68 FINAL
(13) Arizona State 57
Vermont 63 FINAL
UMass Lowell 72
Iowa State 58 FINAL
(8) Texas 57
Southern Ill 61 FINAL
Wichita State 80
(15) Duke 74 FINAL
(12) North Carolina 67
Miami-Florida 55 FINAL
(4) Louisville 68
(21) Minnesota 61 FINAL
(25) Rutgers 66
California 72 FINAL
UCLA 57
(11) Stanford 71 FINAL
USC 60

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How optimistic are you about the 2015 Twins?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close