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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI student researching causes of grouse decline
Recommendations may influence management decisions

KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 2, 2001 -- Ruffed grouse populations in southern New England have declined significantly over the last 20 years. But research being conducted by University of Rhode Island graduate student Erik Endrulat, 23, a resident of New Fairfield, Conn., may result in a better understanding of the causes of their decline and influence decisions about how the bird's numbers should be restored to health.

Grouse numbers are at their highest in southern Canada, the northern tier of the Great Lakes states, and northern New England where aspen trees their primary food source -- are in abundance. "But we don't have many aspens in Rhode Island," notes Endrulat. "The soils in some of our protected lands like Arcadia Management Area are poor, and that influences the vegetation that grows there."

Working in cooperation with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Appalachian Cooperative Grouse Research Project, Endrulat is studying Rhode Island's grouse population by tracking the daily activity of individual birds to assess the size of their home ranges, evaluate the type and quality of habitat they use, and establish survival rates. He trapped 17 grouse last fall and fitted them with radio telemetry harnesses, which allow him to locate each bird simply by tuning in an electronic receiver.

"Once I identify their home range, I can overlap that information onto maps and get a sense of what habitats they're using," he explained. "In poor habitats they're going to have a larger range, while in good habitat they don't need to move around as much. If they're moving a lot they're at greater risk of predation and using more of their energy stores to find food."

Endrulat says that the decline of ruffed grouse populations in southern New England is due in large part to maturing forests. The birds prefer habitat six to 10 years after a forest has been cleared, when new trees are growing and the quality of tree buds is high. But to create this habitat, tree harvesting must be integrated into the forest management plans.

"Most people don't like any harvesting of trees at all," said Endrulat, "but to protect the grouse we might need to manage the habitat to create these patchy shrubs and early successional trees.

"Fifty years ago there was a lot more timber harvesting in the region, but that has declined a great deal. It's a changing ecosystem, and it's altering the wildlife. And that hasn't been good for the grouse."

When his research is complete next year, Endrulat hopes to compare his results with research conducted in other parts of the bird's range and firmly establish habitat preferences. Ultimately his data will be used by the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies in management plans designed to ensure the long-term health of ruffed grouse populations.

For Information: Todd McLeish 874-7892

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Page last revised on Saturday, February 24, 2001 .