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