By Joe HealyThe verdict was thumbs down for ruffed grouse hunters in New Jersey, as the state Fish and Game Council voted unanimously at its summer planning meeting to suspend the grouse season statewide in 2019. Ruffed grouse populations in the Garden State have continued to decline, even with attempts beginning in 2005 to conserve grouse by reducing the season length and lowering the daily bag limit as well as dividing the state into two hunting zones—north and south—with the southern zone having a shorter season.
The same as in many Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, grouse populations in New Jersey have declined primarily due to habitat loss. State records show that the entire Garden State is about 40 percent forested, but only 1 percent of that is the early succession, or young, forest in which grouse thrive. Also in the past few years throughout the natural range of ruffed grouse, West Nile Virus has affected the birds. And, of course, other wildlife and avian predators kill and eat grouse too. Officials are quick to say that hunting is not the cause of grouse-population declines, and hunting groups such as The Upland Bird Committee of the New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs agreed with the closure.
What’s next? At press time state wildlife officials were devising a grouse recovery plan, including efforts to enhance habitat. WMAs in the northern half of the state may offer the most promise, though officials are examining other state lands and are promoting forest improvements on private lands as well.