According to Steve Backs, a wildlife-research biologist with the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife, public misperception about responsible timber management is a big reason why ruffed grouse habitat has disappeared from Indiana in recent decades—and why population decline as a result of habitat loss is the main reason that the Indiana Nongame Bird Technical Advisory Committee issued a proposal last summer to move the ruffed grouse from the State List of Species of Special Concern to the State Endangered Species List. At press time the change was up for review by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Unfortunately, listing grouse as endangered in Indiana seems warranted. According to Backs, the state’s grouse population is estimated at less than 1 percent of what it was 40 years ago, and in 2018 not a single grouse was heard drumming during spring roadside counts for the sixth consecutive year. Grouse hunting in Indiana was suspended in 2015.
“To put that into perspective,” Backs said, “in the early ’80s we were harvesting over 10,000 birds a year. We were also trapping and trading grouse for wild turkeys and helping other states with their restoration of ruffed grouse.”
Backs has been sounding the call to manage timber resources for habitat diversity for more than 20 years, but he says modern land-use practices, public policy and social trends with regard to harvesting timber have been major hurdles. The potential listing could bring needed publicity to the issue and light a fire under wildlife managers and influencers in other nearby states where the bird is cruising toward a similar fate. It also would provide additional legal protection in the Hoosier State.
“By moving [grouse] to state endangered, any proposed state construction, public-service projects or timber management on public land will have to include some type of environmental review as to whether the proposed project will possibly negatively impact ruffed grouse populations or create or enhance habitat for ruffed grouse,” Backs said.
The Ruffed Grouse Society recently issued a public letter with a call to action regarding the proposed Indiana listing.