Upland bird hunting is in a sad state of affairs in Indiana, where the state's Division of Fish and Wildlife has proposed closing the ruffed grouse hunting season statewide. As we've discussed, grouse are struggling in many regions—largely due to dwindling second-growth forest habitat—but in Indiana the decline has been especially disastrous.
Here's some info from the state's proposal to close the season:
Ruffed grouse is projected to drop below “viable population levels” within the next couple of years in portions of its existing range in south central Indiana. Annual roadside surveys continue to find little or no presence of ruffed grouse in many stops along control routes. No drumming male ruffed grouse were heard on the 14 roadside survey routes (15 stops/routes) during the 2013 survey period and only one grouse has been heard on these routes in four years. The five-year (2009-2013) mean drumming index for the control routes was less than 0.01 drummers per stop (about 1 drummer heard every 190 stops), which is less than 1 percent of levels recorded during the peak years of 1979-81. For the eighth consecutive year, no drumming activity centers were located on the Maumee Grouse Study Area where population monitoring began in the early 1960s. Advancement of forest succession (maturity) is a major reason for decline of the ruffed grouse. Prospects for a population recovery are dismal and extirpation seems possible unless some intervention occurs.
Emphasis is my own. Again, if we want to save ruffed grouse--which appear to be on the brink of statewide extinction in Indiana--we have to move beyond the idea that cutting down trees is always wrong.
The Hoosier State has a real problem here. I very much doubt that closing grouse season will improve the population, given the state's larger habitat woes. Right or wrong, however, I'm concerned the move will initiate a downward spiral of sorts: Closing the season inevitably means fewer grouse hunters, which in turn means fewer dollars for conservation, fewer voices supporting grouse-friendly habitat changes, fewer supporters of the Ruffed Grouse Society's efforts, and so on.
I doubt anyone appreciates the splendor and cunning of a ruffed grouse as those who hunt them. Despite the closed season, let's hope Hoosier sportsmen continue to be Ol' Ruffed's advocate.