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

Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Washington
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Atlanta
Detroit 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Washington 11:00 AM
New York
Oklahoma City 1:30 PM
San Antonio
Cleveland 4:00 PM
Miami
LA Lakers 7:00 PM
Chicago
Golden State 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
DePaul 12:30 PM
Loyola Marymount
Ohio 3:00 PM
Nebraska
Colorado 5:30 PM
Hawaii
George Washington 7:30 PM
Wichita State
Marshall 52 FINAL
Northern Ill 23
Navy 17 FINAL
San Diego St 16
Central Mich 48 FINAL
Western Ky 49
Fresno State 6 FINAL
Rice 30
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 2:30 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Do you like the Twins' offseason moves so far?

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