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Prescribed Burns and Appalachian Grouse


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For the predator non believers:   Let me review quickly what I believe  is the history of ruffed grouse in southern app for last 150 years .  Grouse were NOT plentiful way back there in virgin fo

I have been patient for now the better part of a lifetime. Fire wont cut it in the east.  Never has. Reality is the mountains were homes , farms, timberlands before the forests were created. The edge

9000+ acre fire in my area ive seen 0 benefit after 3-4 years. Clear/ regeneration cutting is the only method I have seen any real change from. It must start there. 

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4 hours ago, Mike Connally said:

This is a great thread! 

 

Yes it is....  information exchange at UJ.

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Agreed, very interesting thread. I’ve only been at it two years really so don’t have any experiences from the prime days to compare to what we see now.  
 

What I see in VA is some absolutely prime cuts that I have to walk 2miles to hit, but they’re only 10acres or so, then it’s another 2mi to hit another.  I have not found birds in this type of dispersed habitat.  I have found birds on larger tracts. 
 

The light bulb for me is hitting WV last year and finding birds in habitat that, at least on the surface, was nowhere close to the quality of what I hunted in VA.  Some of it was 25yr old oak forest with zero understory beyond some scrubby young beech snags and blowdowns, but there were birds there.  This was adjacent to the odd highlands style ridge tops with its dwarfed(but thicker) cover, and there was a lot of it.  It was a cold rainy day so I think the birds were on the leeward side staying out of the weather. 
 

Same thing in NH, it was good cover but nothing really better than what I see in va, but much larger cuts and we moved quite a few birds.  
 

 I don’t have anything new to add, just my limited observation that it seems widely dispersed high quality covers are trumped by marginal continuous cover.  

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Also, not sure I buy the predation angle.  Grouse and quail evolved, and coexisted, with all manner of predators, even before man was around to “manage” these predators.  So I just don’t see how hawks/fox/bobcat/etc all of a sudden are causing the downturn.   I will agree that newly resurgent populations (less trapping) or introductions of predators could cause a temporary downturn as bird behavior has to be altered to survive.  In areas that grouse thrive, are we saying there are no predators?  I feel it’s just a lot easier, and a more tangible resolution to the problem, to think the foxes or hawks are the cause, rather than the much tougher issue to take on such as habitat loss and swaying public opinion to help them understand that cutting isn’t  evil.  Hell, before I got into all this and grew to understand what a healthy forest really looked like, I’d have agreed that mature forests shouldn’t be cut.  

Private land I have access to in VA has wild covies on it, young clearcuts not managed at all for quail but holding some birds.  It’s covered in coyote, which I know many argue actually help with quail persecutors, and I see redtail hawks all over the place in the area and enough roadkill possum and skunk to know the area is crawling with them. But, at least as I see it, as soon as passable habitat popped up the birds were able to thrive despite clear predator sign all around.

 

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I've always believed that with large tracts of intact good habitat with some type of dispersment corridors, you will produce birds. Regardless of the presence of predators. That's where good escape cover comes to play. Isolated covers and poor food sources result in low populations. Like Chilly said the birds evolved with predators and developed defenses to survive. When I was a kid we had lots of birds and lots of predators, in the several states I resided.

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Is predation the cause of grouse quail decline? No. Is it A cause. Possibly, but pales to habitat loss. Is it a detriment to recovery? Surely it is as even as we build up habitat predation is a constant threat. Here is the thing, man subsidizes abnormally high predator populations. Trash , carrion, our infrastructure all make it easier for predators to survive. High deer pops provide year round carrion supply for raptors and mammals. Predator survival is not tied to prey populations but subsidized by readily available food and shelter beyond natural means.  This does not mean however that they will not continue their relentless pursuit of prey. They will hunt every day and night. It is what they do. Thus their impact will be abnormally high.  Man is here and not leaving so we have to manage all aspects of Habitat. We are responsible for the world we created.  Predator control has to be a part of wildlife management. 

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mister grouse

For the predator non believers:  

Let me review quickly what I believe  is the history of ruffed grouse in southern app for last 150 years .  Grouse were NOT plentiful way back there in virgin forests covers such as we basically have now in some national forest.  Forest were cut extensively 1880 through late 1920s.  Second growth followed , and here is the successional forest you all talk about.  Meanwhile in that same period every farmstead in the region killed EVERY footed and winged predator or nuisance animal out there.  

 

Then Say from 1930 forward  some second hardwood growth cutting continued , based on regrowth from the 50 year prior initial virgin harvests. About 1980 the hardwood recutting came through the region extensively again  Dont get me  wrong , there was timbering every year in all lands , national and private , in the interim.  But it generally follows 40-50 year cycles on hardwoods.   So grouse had  successional vegetation and predators were very very low in numbers of population.

 

Then in late 1940s surface mining in the region came in to play, and it continued extensively in the region until about 2010, generally speaking.  Surface mining, for all the other alleged environmental issues  it may have carried, provided incredible edge covers and even more successional growth, and held water in older pits at  elevation.  Every knob that was planned  to be  mined on lower contour on its sides was logged prior to or in anticipation of the  mining.  SO you ended up with a successional piece of forest knob on top of a mine bench.  The bench was either left to its own reclamation(pre -reclamation laws) or later was reclaimed.  The outslopes were some of the best successional habitat a grouse would want, generally as thick as any aspen cutover .   And this habitat was in patterns that basically provided a corridor for extension of the species in to newer attractive areas because it ran for miles and miles along the same contours, following the coal seams. Like from Chattanooga or Crossville Tenn through eastern KY and S W VA  and all the way to Ohio in one direction and Pennsylvania in another in narrow contours but a pattern across a swath perhaps three hundred miles wide at its peak..   So the dispersal flights in the fall could expand the grouse in to new areas annually, without hitting the dreaded "grouse desert habitat".  

 

Back to the predator side of the  equation .  During this same period from 1930 to 2000 + - there were lots of jobs in the region.  Like multiple generations before, People lived in most hollows, farmed a garden, killed the same predators daily that would kill grouse just like those predators  killed the barnyard chicken. People trapped daly for all footed nest predators.  A weasel can destroy a chicken flock in one night in the hen house.   I can barely recall ever seeing a hawk or owl in southern app  growing up as a youngster.  Never saw coyote .  

 

So by the late 1960s the ruffed grouse began to really have a great environment in terms of vegetation and predation.  And the grouse population literally exploded from any prior historical numbers in response to this habitat.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have been in prime physical shape and with good dogs and was able to experience and witness this era of grouse plentitude from the 60s to roughly 2000.  A hunter who identified the right habitat in the younger  regrowth of successional timbering ,  and along  a ten year old mine bench could experience grouse numbers rivaling  those in the great lakes.  You can believe that .

 

As to the predators, late last century , once the mining industry slowed and people left southern app for work in other regions, the old farmsteads and gardens in every hollow were not guarded for predation.  People bought food at Walmart instead of the garden.  Avian predators had become federally protected.,  and the avian predators flourished on the grouse and  small mammals that had other wise flourished in the much lower  hawk/owl  populations of prior @ 40 years.  Coyotes showed up from the west. Nobody seems too interested in trapping the smaller footed predators .  Fur markets disappeared.  The predator world exploded.  And food sources saw new competition from the re-introduced turkey populations.  It wasn't fun to be  grouse anymore.  I ve seen too many parts of grouse carcasses in the woods and remains in scat to believe other wise. 

 

As to the Va mountains, I hunted a lot in the" West o the Blue Ridge " and in to WVA edges between White Sulphur and Hardy WVA in late 60s and intermittently thereafter.  I never saw anywhere near the same grouse numbers there  that l saw in the area in any direction within a  couple hundred miles of Cumberland Gap .  There were areas  from Cannan Valley all the way up the Mt Storm where there were ample grouse in the scrub oak , and what second growth  patches you could find,  but not like the populations in other more disturbed areas to the south. 

 

That is my testimony, you can cross exam at will .  You can dismiss this as you wish.  But since I saw this personally on a seasonal and annual basis , from the top to the bottom, you will  have to work hard to  convince me otherwise.

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30 minutes ago, mister grouse said:

For the predator non believers:  

Let me review quickly what I believe  is the history of ruffed grouse in southern app for last 150 years .  Grouse were NOT plentiful way back there in virgin forests covers such as we basically have now in some national forest.  Forest were cut extensively 1880 through late 1920s.  Second growth followed , and here is the successional forest you all talk about.  Meanwhile in that same period every farmstead in the region killed EVERY footed and winged predator or nuisance animal out there.  

 

Then Say from 1930 forward  some second hardwood growth cutting continued , based on regrowth from the 50 year prior initial virgin harvests. About 1980 the hardwood recutting came through the region extensively again  Dont get me  wrong , there was timbering every year in all lands , national and private , in the interim.  But it generally follows 40-50 year cycles on hardwoods.   So grouse had  successional vegetation and predators were very very low in numbers of population.

 

Then in late 1940s surface mining in the region came in to play, and it continued extensively in the region until about 2010, generally speaking.  Surface mining, for all the other alleged environmental issues  it may have carried, provided incredible edge covers and even more successional growth, and held water in older pits at  elevation.  Every knob that was planned  to be  mined on lower contour on its sides was logged prior to or in anticipation of the  mining.  SO you ended up with a successional piece of forest knob on top of a mine bench.  The bench was either left to its own reclamation(pre -reclamation laws) or later was reclaimed.  The outslopes were some of the best successional habitat a grouse would want, generally as thick as any aspen cutover .   And this habitat was in patterns that basically provided a corridor for extension of the species in to newer attractive areas because it ran for miles and miles along the same contours, following the coal seams. Like from Chattanooga or Crossville Tenn through eastern KY and S W VA  and all the way to Ohio in one direction and Pennsylvania in another in narrow contours but a pattern across a swath perhaps three hundred miles wide at its peak..   So the dispersal flights in the fall could expand the grouse in to new areas annually, without hitting the dreaded "grouse desert habitat".  

 

Back to the predator side of the  equation .  During this same period from 1930 to 2000 + - there were lots of jobs in the region.  Like multiple generations before, People lived in most hollows, farmed a garden, killed the same predators daily that would kill grouse just like those predators  killed the barnyard chicken.  I can barely recall ever seeing a hawk or owl in southern app  growing up as a youngster.  Never saw coyote .  

 

So by the late 1960s the ruffed grouse began to really have a great environment in terms of vegetation and predation.  And the grouse population literally exploded from any prior historical numbers in response to this habitat.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have been in prime physical shape and with good dogs and was able to experience and witness this era of grouse plentitude from the 60s to roughly 2000.  A hunter who identified the right habitat in the younger  regrowth of successional timbering ,  and along  a ten year old mine bench could experience grouse numbers rivaling  those in the great lakes.  You can believe that .

 

As to the predators, late last century , once the mining industry slowed and people left southern app for work in other regions, the old farmsteads and gardens in every hollow were not guarded for predation.  People bought food at Walmart instead of the garden.  Avian predators had become federally protected.,  and the avian predators flourished on the grouse and  small mammals that had over wised flourished in the much lower  hawk/owl  populations of prior @ 40 years.  Coyotes showed up from the west.  The predator world exploded.  And food sources saw new competition from the re-introduced turkey populations.  It wasn't fun to be  grouse anymore.  I ve seen too many parts of grouse carcasses in the woods and remains in scat to believe other wise. 

 

As to the Va mountains, I hunted a lot in the" West o the Blue Ridge " and in to WVA edges between White Sulphur and Hardy WVA in late 60s and intermittently thereafter.  I never saw anywhere near the same grouse numbers there  that l saw in the area in any direction within a  couple hundred miles of Cumberland Gap .  There were areas  from Cannan Valley all the way up the Mt Storm where there were ample grouse in the scrub oak , and what second growth  patches you could find,  but not like the populations in other more disturbed areas to the south. 

 

That is my testimony, you can cross exam at will .  

Excellent.  It's always seemed pretty clear to me that the good old days of both quail and grouse hunting in the southeast coincided with land use that was favorable to good habitat for those birds as well as a very different attitude toward predators on the part of the public as well as game and fish agencies.

 

Other factors might figure in but those two are pretty significant in the equation.

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mister grouse

Yes, Cooter, as to bobwhites as well.When the small homesteads in the lower south were garden farmed and protected from predation  (say prior to 1970)it was arguably the highest BWQ population in the overall region(taking out of the equation  the super managed areas in S W GA). .  I can still here an older gentleman I hunted with referring to the "three coveys behind the Nesmiths home" in our hunts in South Carolina.  Sure enough the Nesmiths had  a corn patch and a large garden and generally there were three coveys to be found in the edges and  all within sight of the house.

 

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2 hours ago, mister grouse said:

Yes, Cooter, as to bobwhites as well. When the small homesteads in the lower south were garden farmed and protected from predation  (say prior to 1970)it was arguably the highest BWQ population in the overall region(taking out of the equation  the super managed areas in S W GA). .  I can still here an older gentleman I hunted with referring to the "three coveys behind the Nesmiths home" in our hunts in South Carolina.  Sure enough the Nesmiths had  a corn patch and a large garden and generally there were three coveys to be found in the edges and  all within sight of the house.

 

 

mister grouse:

 

Two excellent posts.  Your views/experience is spot on.  Thanks for posting.

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The thing speaks for itself that when sportsmen share their resource with uncontrolled abundant natural predators there will be less game for sportsmen.  I guess the truth is that the sportsman with his modern firearm is the unnatural segment of the equation.  Sure, prey species are genetically equipped for natural predation, but when you bring a super predator in the balance shifts.  That shift of balance must be counterweighted by something in order to protect the prey, and natural predator control is the simplest answer.

 

The raptors are protected probably in perpetuity (due to the DDT debacle and Silent Spring) but the fur bearers which used to be controlled by trapping are now rampant due to anti-fur public opinion.  I think predator control should be left up to the landowner...SelbyLowndes 

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I wasn't trying to say predator control is not necessary to sound wildlife management. What I was saying is that predation is a part of life in the wild and animals have adapted to survive despite of it. The loss of a decent fur market, which will most likely never return, is a major factor leading to upward trends in predator populations. So with more predators, you need much more prime suitable habitat. That is not happening, the habitat is not growing, and I feel that is where a major problem lies.

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4 hours ago, SelbyLowndes said:

The thing speaks for itself that when sportsmen share their resource with uncontrolled abundant natural predators there will be less game for sportsmen.  I guess the truth is that the sportsman with his modern firearm is the unnatural segment of the equation.  Sure, prey species are genetically equipped for natural predation, but when you bring a super predator in the balance shifts.  That shift of balance must be counterweighted by something in order to protect the prey, and natural predator control is the simplest answer.

 

The raptors are protected probably in perpetuity (due to the DDT debacle and Silent Spring) but the fur bearers which used to be controlled by trapping are now rampant due to anti-fur public opinion.  I think predator control should be left up to the landowner...SelbyLowndes 

 

Selby:  Natural control of the "Super Predator" us, is as I am sure you know, what brings about bag and possession limits based however loosely on what the powers that be deem to be huntable population numbers however sound those numbers may be.  Take us out of the equation for a moment and one sees the problem in a somewhat different light.  DNR's, Game and Fish and wildlife resources departments are forced into delineating bag numbers for specific seasons and species.  Many times said numbers are defined by true knowledge of the base numbers of a species in specific areas so as to not reduce the standing population below the threshold for continued breeding and "refill" numbers.  

 

This is all well and good save for the fact that most departments have no real idea what the second tier predator numbers look like.  I look at the subject from the position that those departments have no solid numbers on the predation levels of said predators other then loose ones.  One survey in Texas said that even with the number of coyotes on a given study area their total take of live quail was less then 1% via scat examination during the study period.  I am not in disagreement with those numbers but am unable to extrapolate said numbers to other parts of the Bob Whites range.

 

It seems from studies, again in Texas (cause they have the $$$$ support from hunters and landowners) that the biggest deficit to quail populations is through nest predation by coon, skunks and snakes..  Their suggestions were to create more and better nesting cover which would likely mean more clump grass areas  so the nests would be harder for general predators to find.  Kind of makes sense.

 

Raptors from this point forward, as you said, will be a major problem for gamebirds of every species.  Hell, grizzly's are killing mature bull elk and being filmed doing it.  The elk herds in the mountain West are under constant pressure from wolves also.  Two Apex predators that were rendered almost extinct by our forefathers due to their molestation of humans and livestock, yet here we are having to deal with what some bunch of snowflakes think is good stuff......

 

2 hours ago, EB&Me said:

I wasn't trying to say predator control is not necessary to sound wildlife management. What I was saying is that predation is a part of life in the wild and animals have adapted to survive despite of it. The loss of a decent fur market, which will most likely never return, is a major factor leading to upward trends in predator populations. So with more predators, you need much more prime suitable habitat. That is not happening, the habitat is not growing, and I feel that is where a major problem lies.

 

EB&ME: 

 

You are so right, except, as I mentioned in my post to Selby above, our departments do not seem to have a grasp on what the second tier predators populations are like.  Since we have lost the arboreal predator control provided by trapping its a done deal.  Remember though, that as you expand habitat for one species that also enhances same for those other species.  If you look at predator and prey population curves the predator curve shadows the prey and actually frequently exceeds it until the absence of prey starts to take control and the predators lacking sufficient food start to starve out.  Then the cycle starts over again.

 

All of the comments above are from me regarding this discussion

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UplandVirginia

Thanks for the information, everyone. Let’s see if I can put it to good use this weekend for the WV opener!

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Predation is a huge part of the issue, coupled with habitat. As has been stated the fur market collapse has led to an explosion in nest predators in at least my part of the south. When I was in high school in the early 80's I had friends that coon hunted every night and a good coon dog would run you several thousand dollars but would pay for itself and make you money in one season with hides bringing $20 each. As with all things, popularity brings competition and competitive coon hunting trials took off and they were judged upon treeing only and people quit killing coons so they had them to train and trial on. This led to people 'trash' breaking their dogs from pursuing possum's which were killed as a nuisance animal prior but were not discouraged from being allowed to be pursued. Raptors were addressed in a not talked about manor as many old timers hated them due to losses of chickens and other poultry around the farm. 

 

Huntschool is correct in that diminishing habitat coupled with and increasing or exploding predator base is insurmountable in many areas for growth or even survival (Mister Grouse as well). 

 

As far as the super predator, myself and I hope most hunters will not wipe out a covey or even take too many for that same covey to survive. The difference is we are looking for something to eat to survive and we can count. A feathered or fur covered predator does not care if there is one or a dozen birds in that covey, it is just supper. If a nest predator is successful then a whole brood does not get to even start a life cycle and many times the hen is lost as well. 

 

Every coffee shop has a table of old timers in it and when I come in with my hunting clothes and whistle on a lanyard they immediately start a conversation about coyotes being the problem and there was a time I subscribed to that train of thought but Wisconsin's son changed my view on them as they take out more nest predators than nests. Plus they are also great at eliminating stray cats. 

 

I am not in the shoot all the hawks camp ( but am in for the coons, possum, and skunk camp). 

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