WILLIAMSPORT — The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s lead ruffed grouse biologist will detail the agency’s innovative new approach to restoring grouse numbers within the state during the Ruffed Grouse Society’s fourth annual Conservation and Sportsmen’s Banquet on Saturday, Feb. 22, at Farrington Place, 416 W. Third St., Williamsport.
Lisa Williams, program specialist for ruffed grouse and webless migratory game birds for the game commission, will be the featured speaker for the fund-raising banquet, hosted by the Susquehanna River Valley Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS).
Williams will explain how the agency’s Grouse Priority Area Siting Tool (G-PAST), called a “game changer for grouse restoration” when it was unveiled by the game commission in December, will be used to identify prime grouse recovery areas within the state, with a goal of directing future habitat improvement projects to those priority areas.
The ruffed grouse, Pennsylvania’s state bird, has suffered dramatic population losses in Pennsylvania over the past two decades due to a statewide scarcity of young forests and large-scale die-offs of the popular game bird, attributed to West Nile virus.
West Nile virus is a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes that first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2000. It has been found in more than 125 species of birds, and can cause illness and occasionally death in human and horses.
In 2015, Williams began a first-in-the-nation study to determine the impact of West Nile virus on grouse populations. Her ongoing research has determined that in years when the presence of West Nile virus is high, grouse populations plummet, but in year’s when the virus is less prevalent, grouse numbers can rebound in areas where there is abundant high-quality habitat. For ruffed grouse, that habitat is young forest, also called early successional habitat.
The Grouse Priority Area Siting Tool (G-PAST) combines geographic information system (GIS) analysis with wildlife research and habitat-management information to identify areas with landscape features that stave off mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus. When combined with information on local grouse populations, G-PAST identifies priority habitat-creation sites, where disease risk is low and probability of grouse benefit is high.
“It’s not enough to simply create grouse habitat,” Williams. “For best success, habitat must be created in areas buffered from disease-carrying mosquitoes and close to existing grouse populations so birds can quickly colonize new sites. We have really high hopes that (G-Past) will allow us to strategically restore grouse in the commonwealth.”
During her banquet presentation, Williams said she will outline an approach to grouse restoration that includes: where to put habitat; how to create habitat; and how landowners can help limit West Nile virus risk to woodland species and themselves.
The banquet will begin with a social hour at 5:30 p.m. Dinner is set for 7 p.m.
The evening will offer a variety of live and silent auctions, raffles, drawings and door prizes, highlighted with a selection of fine firearms, artwork and collectibles.
Proceeds from the fund-raising banquet will be used to enhance and create young forest habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other wildlife on Pennsylvania public land.
Since its formation in 2017, the Susquehanna River Valley RGS chapter has initiated $92,500 in habitat improvement projects on public lands within the Loyalsock, Tioga and Susquehannock state forests, according to chapter president Seth Heasley.