Minnesota may be the “Land of 10,000 lakes,” but according to Ted Dick, a DNR Forest gamebird coordinator and Ruffed Grouse Society consultant, the state also has 11 million acres of public land that can be hunted. To help manage forests, and support grouse and woodcock populations, the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) launches conservation efforts on a state and national level.
“Grouse are Minnesota’s number one gamebird,” said Dick, and that “Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are the top three (states for grouse).” Dick said that other factors contributing to the state’s status as a mecca for upland hunting are that Minnesota has a deep pool of grants and federal funds and a viable timber industry.
Jon Steigerwaldt, a biologist with the RGS, said that this timber industry comes from habitat management, which includes clearing certain areas of old forest to allow younger trees to grow. “These young forests are where grouse thrive,” Steigerwaldt said, but, “we’re losing young forest habitats throughout much of the United States.”
“We have the best habitat and the best forests, but it’s not as good as it used to be,” said Dick. “We’ve taken grouse habitat for granted in Minnesota.”
Even so, according to Steigerwaldt, Minnesota offers a perfect home for grouse, with diverse habitats and plenty of Aspen.
“Aspen is key when it comes to managing and hunting ruffed grouse,” Steigerwaldt said. These trees are perfect for the birds, and when removed after they become too mature, they sprout new trees with great speed.
“In Minnesota things are a lot better than in other parts of the country,” Dick said. He said that because of conservation efforts by the RGS, there is great habitat management through the help of RGS members, who regularly assist in conservation work, and through numerous grant dollars, which are oftentimes multiplied by the funds brought in by annual RGS banquets.
The conservation work largely consists of clearing trails, and managing private and state land. “Mowing and brush work are big components,” Dick said. In many cases RGS members have personal equipment and resources that the DNR cannot always allocate to RGS projects. Because of this, members are vital to hands-on conservation and are not simply financial factors.
Both Dick and Steigerwaldt agreed that a major component of future conservation efforts is the number of people interested in hunting and maintaining forests. Dick said that when he was growing up, hunting was very widespread among youth. People used to do it before and after school, he said, but now it’s not as common because people have fewer opportunities to hunt and it’s not as normalized as it once was.
Dick also drew a connection between the number of hunters and the funds they draw, and asserted that the fewer hunters there are, the less funding there is because state level funding comes through hunting licenses. He did say, however, that the RGS owes much to the high school trap shooting league, which has interested many young people in hunting.
Dick concluded that the RGS has a mission to protect wildlife, but it is also a voice for hunters.
“It’s easy to make an influence,” he said. But, he added, “If you don’t stick up for your passion, it’ll go away.”