By Brad Allen
Itís been over 45 years since anyone has legally shot one in Maine. The Spruce Grouse is a native forest bird that inhabits spruce and fir forests found throughout the northern U.S. and Canada. The forests throughout northern Maine proves good habitat for this species, primarily in the form of lowland stands of balsam fir, red spruce, and tamarack. Throughout most to the year, Spruce Grouse dine on a steady diet comprised of needles of these conifer species. Although Spruce Grouse occur throughout much of northern Maine, in eastern Maine and some mid coastal regions, fragmented populations likely support only modest populations. Even today, little is known about their current statewide population status. In other northeastern states Spruce Grouse are state-listed as an endangered species.
Over the past few years Iíve been either tangentially involved or not involved at all involved with three Spruce Grouse projects. My agency had nothing to do with one project, a University of Maine at Orono (UMO) graduate project conducted by student Stephen Dunham. Recently I received his masterís thesis on his work on Spruce Grouse habitat ecology. I have met Steve on a few occasions and find him a fine researcher. In his thesis he writes that Spruce Grouse are assumed to be associated with mature, unharvested spruce and fir forests in the northeast. Dunhamís work assessed habitat relationships of grouse in areas dominated by commercial forest management. Somewhat surprising to me he found more breeding male Spruce Grouse in mid-successional (middle-aged), moderately dense softwood stands that had experienced intensive forestry practices such as clear-cutting and commercial thinning. This is good news to Spruce Grouse as there is quite a large amount of these forest conditions in northern and eastern Maine. Last, Dunham recommended that timber harvesting and post-harvest management that promotes dense spruce-fir dominated regeneration will be required to maintain Spruce Grouse in commercially managed forests within this region.
A second UMO graduate project I am more familiar with is now being conducted by Dr. Erik Blombeg and his graduate student Joel Tebbenkamp. The purpose of this project is to better-understand population characteristics of Spruce Grouse in northern Maine, so as to inform decisions with respect to the regulatory status of the species. They seek to collect detailed data on spruce grouse life histories from representative populations in northern Maine. These data will allow them to determine vital statistics such as annual survival, nest success, and chick survival. We will then evaluate the current status of Spruce Grouse in Maine based on whether their population characteristics are consistent with stable, increasing or declining populations. These researchers note that changes in plant successional dynamics, land use practices, and/or climate may influence the future composition and availability of spruce and fir habitats used by grouse. Given these changes, we all hope to have a better understanding the population ecology of these birds and this will inform future conservation efforts.
The last Spruce Grouse effort that IFW has partnered with involves translocating Spruce Grouse from areas of Maine with good grouse populations to New York (NY) to help maintain the long-term viability of this species in that state. Biologists in NY are concerned that current Spruce Grouse populations may totally disappear from their landscape. I worked with my boss, MDIFW Commissioner Woodcock, to clear the way for this activity. Department wildlife biologist Scott McLellan assisted NYís trapping crew while they were in Maine. The NY personnel did the lionís share of the work, IFW provided the permission, permits, and some technical assistance. In 2015, 30 Spruce Grouse were captured in Maine and transported. Last summer, an additional 25 birds made NY their new home. The good news from this effort is that the transplanted and then radioed birds have survived well in NY and all of the surviving females attempted to nest each subsequent spring. Ultimately these efforts will provide information necessary to help promote the viability of Spruce Grouse in NY well into the future.
Working with other state conservation agencies is not uncommon. For instance, decades ago NY donated wild turkeys to the State of Vermont. In 1977 and 1978, Vermont Fish and Game biologists trapped 41 Wild Turkeys, which IFW staff released in the towns of York and Elliot. During the winters of 1987 and 1988, IFW biologists Phil Bozenhard, Randy Cross and I, with the help of individuals from the Maine Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, trapped another 70 Wild Turkeys in Connecticut and released them in Maine to augment our existing populations. From these 111 ďout of stateĒ Wild Turkeys, we now have an estimated 50,000 Ė 60,000 Wild Turkeys in Maine. Iím delighted by this, but apparently others do not share in my enthusiasm for this bird.
Brad Allen is a wildlife biologist with MDIF&W. He is also an avid bird hunter and gun dog man. He would be pleased to receive feedback on his articles. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Caption for Photo: Photo of a banded male Spruce Grouse by Joe Holland
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