Grouse and Woodcock Habitat Restoration w/ RGS

Show Notes

On this week's episode of the Pennsylvania Woodsman, Mitch sits down with the Ruffed Grouse Society's resident group of experts in Southeast PA.  Joining the show is Ben Larson, Jan Christen, and Dave Henry.  Combined these minds understand the need for forest and habitat manipulation, as well as how to get it done.  We address forest stands including health and age, appropriate forestry practices, the use of fire, invasive species management, and more.  We also discuss the importance for fundraising and networking with organizations like RGS to provide resources for project implementation.  This includes funding for public land restoration that we all benefit from!  This episode is jam packed full of interesting science based information!

Check out the Sportsmen's Empire Podcast Network for more relevant outdoor content!

Show Transcript

[00:00:00] You're listening to the Pennsylvania Woodsman powered by Sportsman's Empire Podcast Network. This show is driven to provide relatable hunting and outdoor content in the Keystone State and surrounding Northeast. On this show, you'll hear an array of perspectives from biologists and industry professionals to average Joes with a lifetime of knowledge.

All centered around values aiming to be better outdoorsmen and women, both in the field as well as home and daily life. No clicks, no self interest, just the light in the pursuit of creation. And now, your host, the pride of Pennsylvania, the man who shoots straight and won't steer you wrong, Johnny Appleseed himself, Mitchell Shirk.

Thanks for tuning in to another episode, guys. I am coming off of my high here. I have if you listened to last week's episode, you know that, I was headed down to do a hunt in New Jersey and wrapping that hunt up, we had a successful hunt. I ended up [00:01:00] killing my first bear with a bow and I also killed killed a small buck with my bow and I did it all on day three.

I did it with I did it out of the same tree in the same day. It was a crazy hunt, a lot of crazy stories happening, but we saw a ton of bears. There was four of us that went in total, the second go around the first two days, it was just myself and and my my family, Mark Lesher, and I'm not going to spoil it too much for you because I think I'm going to round the boys up and we're going to do a hunt recap and tell the whole story from the beginning to the end, how we came across the place that we hunted to harvesting, Two bear and a buck.

Our buddy, Jason Miller was able to connect on a bear with the muzzle loader. And pretty much everybody saw a bear except except one guy. And it was a dream come true. It was definitely the highlight of my hunting season for sure. And it just began. So I'm hoping to do some more hunting and get out [00:02:00] here soon.

But... Yeah, it's it's still a pinch me feeling. I'm looking forward to having some bear meat in the house It's been quite a number of years since I did that Plan to I've taken one of the hinds and I'm going to cure it like a ham and smoke it Then gonna get some roasts and any of the trim meat gonna get some sausage and I am looking forward to it because I personally think bear meat is delicious and I'm Anxious to see my wife's reaction because I don't know The last bear that I killed I don't know if she tried any of it In fact, i'm trying to think of how long ago it was since I killed the bear And if I was even with my wife at the time, i'm sure I was but time just jumbles together But yeah, it was a great experience and I tell you what i'm still on a bear kick I think I might take the muzzle loader out with the muzzleloader season in this week and I'll definitely have bear on my mind when I'm going to be bowhunting as it's open until I believe [00:03:00] November 4th.

So good luck to everybody out there chasing bear, chasing deer. Still don't have anything real exciting on the deer end of things. I did see, I did get pictures of a buck from last year. I believe he's a three year old. He's a nine pointer this year. I had pictures of him last year, and I found his shed this summer when I was scouting.

Really nice buck. Not sure if it's a buck that I would want to shoot or not, but it was probably one of the nicer ones I've seen for a while, and that was exciting. Again, I'm going off of some windows of when I think it's going to get... Good. And we're getting close to that. I think the last, about the last week in October, I think I have a window of when one deer that I would possibly shoot will show up and then another deer is probably going to be in that second week in November timeframe.

So that's what I'm rolling with, and other than that, it's going to be flying by the seat of my pants. Shifting gears here, and getting to this week's episode. This week, I [00:04:00] had a conversation with a couple fellows from the Rough Grouse Society. I was able to attend a regional meeting in Redding, Pennsylvania, and had Ben Larson on the podcast, and we were also joined by Jan Christen and Dave Henry.

These guys are diehards. We've got biologists, we've got foresters we've got hard working guys that just love grouse and love woodcock and love seeing habitat restoration done to its fullest and Thus, seeing the rewards of that, seeing improved populations, improved hunting, improved wildlife in general.

Because as these guys talk, you realize that while they are definitely minded towards grouse, woodcock, and those birds of the forest. Everything benefits from the Habitat Projects. We're going to talk specifically about forest stands, forest management, the whys behind things, the how from a [00:05:00] funding standpoint, what the Roughgrass Society does from the how end of things, and much, much more.

This is a great episode with some extremely knowledgeable individuals. So before we get to this episode, real Radix Hunting. The M Core Cell Cameras. Guys, they were a huge part for my success in my New Jersey hunt. Had great service. I had excellent picture quality. I think I might have even swayed my hunting buddies to tinker and use some Radix cameras this year, but they really did.

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When I was hunting this week in Jersey, I was wearing their lightweight hoodie, the Durham pants. And then I put the [00:06:00] Elkins vest over the top and that was perfect 'cause it, it took the the edge off, the chill in the morning. Once the sun came up, I was able to just take the the vest off and I was comfortable.

The other thing I liked about the hoodie is it has a built-in face mask, so it was able to cover my face and keep me warm. If you're, really in, interested in breaking up your outline or your face from the wood standpoint, of course it's gonna do that. But I liked that was built in really comfortable setup.

I was really happy how durable the pants were. They did a great job. I went through some nasty stickers and briars. And they didn't get torn up and ripped up to a million pieces like I've had in the past. So I'm anxious to keep putting them to the test in that type of environment. I'm pretty hard on stuff.

And so far, first impressions are pretty good. So check out Huntworth Gear. And with that, let's get to this episode.

This was an awesome opportunity. So I connected through social media, of all things. I curse social [00:07:00] media all the time, but, it was one opportunity here where we connected I was put in contact with Ben and it just so happened that, within an hour driving distance from home, you guys having a banquet.

So thanks for sitting down. I'm sitting with guys from Rough Grouse Society. So this is this is pretty exciting. So thanks for hopping on the show. Thanks for having us. Thanks for having us. Yeah. Absolutely. It's rare that I get to do a group podcast in person, so this is always fun. And I know we got an event tonight, so I don't want to cut anybody short on dinner or anything going on.

We should be fine. So if you have to cut out for sure, we can we can adjust from that. But I really wanted to just get an idea of what's happening in the Rough Grouse Society. What's happening. From the habitat standpoint, what's happening at, I have a background in biology. I'm very interested in habitat management restoration.

And I just want to go around real quick and everybody introduced himself and, tell them what hand you have in this. Ben, you want to start us? Sure. Thanks very much. Yeah. Ben Larson was hired two and a half years ago to work with the rough grouse society, the mid Atlantic region [00:08:00] background is a forester worked for a forest product company before working for the RGS.

And essentially what I'm doing is working with our members Jan and Dave and many other chapters across the Mid Atlantic, and agencies, state and federal agencies, private landowners industry. Industry is a key piece of this because they buy the wood that makes the forest management happen at scale.

And we're trying to do strategic forest management. that has habitat benefits on public and private land. We can get more into that, but that's the essential kind of mission of RGS at this point is using working forests to have maximum habitat benefits. Absolutely. Habitat goes a long way. We were just talking about that earlier, how important habitat is, and I can't wait to dive into that.

Jan can you introduce yourself? Yeah, Jan Christen from Lititz, Pennsylvania. I'm a committee member on a local chapter. Here in Southeast Pennsylvania and I've been [00:09:00] involved with RGS for probably 20 years and basically the whole purpose is to, support forest diversity and develop a more diverse habitat for grouse, woodcock and every other species that, we all cherish.

Yeah, absolutely. And, yeah I'm Dave Henry. I worked for the Game Commission for 35 years, retired in 2015. I was a regional forester and our charge was to manage the Forest for wildlife. That was the game Commission's mission and still is today. And that was what we worked hard at. I began a relationship with the Grouse Society because A, they were willing to help with projects, and b, they were willing to fund some projects.

So it was it was a two-prong effort to help the game commission from a habitat standpoint. particularly in sites where the timber was of low value or poor value and the industry, the value of the material would not support the industry coming in and do on that work and or creating the habitat. So it was a win for R.

G. S. [00:10:00] and wildlife and for the game commission at the same time. And that's what spearheaded this back in the mid eighties. Right now, I have to ask you, you're retired so you can have no filter on this question, which is perfect. But What's easier to manage, forest and wildlife, or the people that have their hands in it?

That's a very challenging question. Having grown up and worked through an environment where we had many people challenge us, cutting trees on public land is not a popular tool for wildlife management. People object to that, because they object to cutting trees, okay? Particularly on public land. We had many interactions with the public.

Dealing with trying to make them understand or better understand what our goals were, how we were doing it, and how it was scientifically sound. And that, that led to many, some sleepless nights and many challenges for me. I'll give you one real simple, very short example. We spent one whole [00:11:00] year battling with some conservation groups locally here in Berks County on this group up near Hamburg over a timber sale.

That we were going to destroy the water supply for the city of Reading. We were going to destroy the Appalachian Trail. We were going to degrade all the songbird habitat on the Blue Mountain on this game land. And it went from there and it took a whole year. I got almost a thousand letters opposing this from all over the country.

So the public does get involved, okay. And it's something as massive as that, or something as small as just your cutting trees next to a neighbor's house, and they're concerned about their safety. It runs the whole gamut. But the public definitely has a role in the management program. The question becomes, in my mind, what, to what degree does that role determine what happens or doesn't happen.

Fortunately, in my career, we were never stopped from moving forward with a project. We had to make some deviations, we had to make some small changes, but at the end of the day, we were able to move the project forward, create the habitat [00:12:00] worked on, and go from there. Gotcha. That makes sense, and I'm sure you guys can echo that too.

At the end of the day whenever it comes to making advances anywhere in life, you could probably go down any rabbit hole with this, but education is the biggest thing, because there's a lot of people that have their hands in this with interest in the wildlife, interest in grass, interest in this, but Not understanding the biome itself, the ecology behind it.

And that's where you guys come into a big aspect for that. Many years ago, a college prep, I went to Penn Statement a long time ago. Forestry is the most misunderstood science out there. That was a statement he made. And that's something that stuck with me. Because the public has one perception, just like fire is a management tool, they perceive the big fires in the west and northwest, okay?

Using fire in Pennsylvania is a totally different option in a totally different environment with a totally different outcome. But the public, some of the public doesn't understand that either. Jan, you were telling me earlier that the Rough Grouse Society has come a long way in a long time and you feel like really now you're [00:13:00] starting to gain traction and I want to dive into that a little bit more because I don't quite understand everything behind that.

If you guys all will, tell me a little bit about the grassroots of this organization and where we're going now in 2023 and goals. It it all stopped, starts from the top down and everyone has. A piece of the puzzle, but the direction that RGS is headed now from the top is to increase the scope and the scale.

And it all starts Ben Jones, the president of RGS, has a saying that I just love. You stop at any beautiful scenic overlook in Pennsylvania and look out across the mountains and it's gorgeous. Unless you're a forester and a wildlife enthusiast. Exactly. Yep. And you look at it and it's a sea of sameness.

It's a biological desert in places. RGS's main objective is to create forest diversity. That [00:14:00] not only benefits Krause and Woodcock, it benefits human beings. It benefits deer and bear and turkeys and songbirds and small game. That's where the vision starts. And then the pieces have to be put into the puzzle.

Ben Larson has a very big hand in the big picture. Locally, we have a big hand in the small picture. Our mission is to raise funds so that we can leverage those funds. To add a piece of the puzzle to Ben's overall plan for Pennsylvania and dynamic forest blocks and, everything's working the way it's supposed to.

The scale has ramped up immensely, the funding has ramped up immensely, so that's the part that I'm really enthused about. It's happening at the scale it needs to happen. To affect [00:15:00] huge amounts of of habitat. Sure. And that's really where we're at right now. So it's clicking on all cylinders and the partners, Ben's talking about, commercial markets.

If there's money involved. Habitat's gonna get created. Things are gonna happen. Yeah. If there's money involved, things are gonna happen. Things are gonna happen. And now there's, groups that, we've been on the opposite side of the fence. There's Bird Conservancy and, even Hawk Mountain has come around.

National Wild Turkey Association, we're partnering with everyone because a great grouse management plan is a great management plan for, like I said, white tailed deer, bear, turkey, songbirds. It benefits us all. So it's easy to be enthused about our mission. We don't need to build pens and grow birds. We need to create habitat and nature takes over from there.

And one of those projects is called the Kitty Titty Ridge, which runs from the Lehigh [00:16:00] Valley all the way to the Susquehanna River along the Blue Mountain. If you traveled 78 or 81, you would see those things. And that, most of that land, not all of it, but most of that is game lands from the Susquehanna all the way over to Route 33 going north up from Allentown.

And the game lands. That project is designed to get habitat along the whole ridge, not just a little spot here and a little spot there, but have habitat that's connected so wildlife can be connected and make use of those various activities that are happening there for wildlife. Ben, I'm anxious to talk about the big scope, because we've been flirting around that a little bit, and you've got a big role in this, and I want to dive into that a little bit, so take it off from the beginning, because I'm not sure how to start it other than that.

I'm very lucky, because I joined RGS when RGS had already been part of an informal but very effective partnership called the Dynamic Forest Partnership. Okay. Formed primarily with the Game Commission, as Dave was talking about. American [00:17:00] Bird Conservancy as Jan mentioned Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Jeff Larkin at both ABC and IUP as well as now the National Wild Turkey Federation, Audubon Mid Atlantic, and many other partners.

The neat thing about this collaboration is that we don't have a lot of meetings, we don't have a lot of, don't even have a website. For about the last seven years, these partners non profit organizations, the game commission, some state forests even some state parks here in Pennsylvania, have restored over 300, 000 acres of habitat.

For goldenwing warblers, rough grouse, woodcock, cerulean warblers. As Jam was mentioning, it goes far beyond woodcock and grouse, which are our namesake. Wildlife, but this is really about forest diversity. And... The Dynamic Forest Partnership here in Pennsylvania is making it happen through these very effective partnerships between non profit organizations, even some private [00:18:00] landowners are now getting some funding to do some good forest management.

So that's the part that's really exciting to me, is because we're working on a recent proposal, recent grant includes a couple of water Agencies outside of Harrisburg and Duncannon Borough. They have forests around their reservoirs, and they're managing the forests primarily for water quality, water, security, but also for habitat.

Sure. And so we're working with lots of interesting partners, the Bureau of Forestry, DCNR, Tuscarora State Forest is going to be part of that. So we're really working across the landscape. In this case, Kittatinny Ridge is Dave was mentioning, and we're doing that in all parts of Pennsylvania and in many other regions as well.

So that's the kind of secret sauce that RGS is cooking up at this point. And it's fun, and it's effective, and it's super interesting and innovative because we are working with industry, it's the, primarily the markets for pulpwood that help remove the [00:19:00] low quality material that's the hardest to get out of the woods.

Sometimes we need some extra financing, as Dave was saying, sometimes there isn't enough. Yeah, volume or value. So we can raise some funds, do some fundraising from non-profit and grant making organizations. Sometimes the federal government has some money. Bringing together what's needed in particular places to do the work at scale.

That's the really cool thing. And I want to bring that whole part of the conversation into full circuit and kind of understand the beginning and end, how we make that work. But let's just start off with the habitat, first of all, because as Janet made mention, we've been flirting around this all day, like we have a lot of closed canopy forest.

We have a lot of the same age forest across the state. We've got two different forest types and a lot of, we've got, your oak hickories, beech birch maples, and stuff like that, but even a lot of it is cut at the same age, and you talked about early succession, but let's dive into that what is, what's the goal when you talk about early succession, are we talking about a certain age of cut and how we're rotating that what does that look like from just the ultimate end goal for [00:20:00] woodcock and rough grouse?

To put it... A great definition on early successional habitat and Dave has a lot more knowledge on the tools and stuff like that. But let's wrap this up with, right now with closed canopy forest, and don't get us wrong, we need closed canopy forest. There needs to be diversity of forest. But all that energy is 50 feet in the air.

Early successional habitat is energy on the ground. Sun's the only source of energy that we have. If it's not hitting the ground and we don't have energy, biomass, at the level that the animals live it's inaccessible to them. So the, that early successional phrase is really... Rebirth and putting that where animals can make use of it.

Human beings can make use of it. Carbon sequestration and all those things that we [00:21:00] can get into. So that's the first step is bringing that biomass, that energy back to a level in the forest that. The birds, the deer, and everything else can make use of. Taking that one step further, if you think back about the history of Pennsylvania, between about 1880 and about the start of the First World War, which was 1915, Pennsylvania was clear cut completely.

There was very little that was not harvested. So the forests that you're seeing today are a product of that activity. 100 to 120 years ago. So the ages of forest in Pennsylvania continues to increase, and the rate of harvest has continued to decrease. When you look across the whole spectrum of available forest land.

Pennsylvania has about 19 million acres, of which about 12 billion is forested. The Game Commission has 1. 5 million. So the impact across on a landscape scale... is pretty limited in areas. And the challenge with that is, is [00:22:00] coordinating through people like Rough Grouse Society to get that early successional habitat, which is basically, as Jan alluded to, getting those trees that are from about This big to about 20 feet tall, that's going to be about a tree, 15 years of age, somewhere in that range.

Okay. Depending on species. And the result of that is all the wildlife that utilizes that for ground nesting, songbirds, et cetera, browse for deer, anything you can imagine that wildlife will utilize that needs to be maintained across the landscape in order for that wildlife to be maintained. If you cut one time and you don't continue that habitat program, You're going to reach a point where that wildlife isn't going to have what it needs.

It's either going to have to move or it's not going to survive. So there's where the Kinnititty Ridge project, locally here, is paramount for habitat for wildlife. We need that across the landscape, not just one time. And, I understand landowners feel like, a private landowner in particular, will say, I've done my part, okay?

I have 20 acres [00:23:00] and I've done my part, okay? And that's great. But if there's nothing around that 20 acres, Over time, that part isn't going to be anything. And that's the challenge where RGS has stepped up to the table many times when I was working to help us get some of those things happening in areas where we couldn't pull that trigger and make it happen.

You're talking about making sure that we've got more uniform dispersion of populations because when you've got an island of an oasis of habitat, it's going to deplete resources in a very quick speed, especially with the four legged deer that we've got around. They quickly decimate that, and that's why we've got so many places in our forest where, yeah, we have early succession, but it's the browse lines so bad, and then what fills in?

Invasive species. And I want you guys to elaborate on that. You keep bringing up this one specific project, Kitatini Ridge. Ridge, yeah. I don't know, Ben, if you want to expound a little bit on it? Sure. So this is a really cool for me because it shows how the different kinds of partners can really be part of a larger landscape scale impact.

We're here [00:24:00] tonight at the banquet for the South Mountain and the Charles Bechtel Chapters Rough Grouse Society. Raising money through raffles, donations and that money is going to be used for habitat here locally, but also it's going to be used strategically. And with the game commission, the chapters are going to figure out where does it actually make sense for volunteers to do some work.

Where does it make sense for the chapters to put some money into, rebuild a road, extend a road, so there can be some forest management happen. That wouldn't otherwise happen. And then what I do, for my part, is work with external funders, other partners, and augment that local, strategic, volunteer, chapter scale with some larger sources of funding, some external partners.

And the way I think about it is extending the mosaic. So if you've got a young stand that's that.[00:25:00]

So there's what we call a shifting mosaic. So you have a good stand coming into, good conditions, 10, 20 years old. But then that's going to grow older and grow out of that prime habitat condition. So you need management lined up to happen around it, really over the decades. Because we need to move from this closed canopy, single age.

sort of monolithic habitat condition that Jan and Dave were talking about to a condition where we have much more diversity. We need open canopy forests. Oak in particular needs to get some light on the ground to get those seedlings going. We need more young forests. We need more, actually we need more old forests that have better habitat quality.

Old forests actually do have a lot of habitat value. It's just that we don't actually have many Old forests that are in good condition. It's really the full spectrum of forest types and ages and, the cool thing about what RGS [00:26:00] is doing is putting together the pieces for the forestry to happen to get the ecological restoration going at scale, benefit lots of different kind of species, and do it in strategic places and with lots of different partners.

And the Kidatini Ridge is a great example of that. There's a lot of external funding. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in particular is helping to fund some work we're doing on the Kittatinny Ridge now and in many other places in Pennsylvania. Okay. So they're funding the Mellon Foundation's been really integral, helping with a lot of this as well.

And U. S. Fish, U. S. Forest Service is, I think, going to be helping us with some work with the Bureau of Forestry and the DCNR here in Pennsylvania. So it's really a great time to be doing this kind of work. To be doing it smartly, doing it strategically. Cause it's a big apple, we're trying to bite out of.

I don't know how many acres. Yeah. I can't tell you off the top of my head. Yeah, it's too much. We can't do it everywhere. That's right. So we gotta pick our battles, be smart, be strategic. And that's what we're really trying to do here. And one example of a project that was just [00:27:00] completed last month. RGS funded the construction of an access trail.

It was a part of a large game lands and we couldn't get in because of the water source and spring seeps and all that kind of thing. You couldn't build a road to go in and harvest the material, but we could build a trail, working with the game commission on game lands to construct a trail for 2. 2 miles, which RGS funded.

To do this so they can, we can, they rg the game commission can harvest about 200 acres, not to remove the trees. They're just gonna fill the trees and let, they're gonna hire a contractor to go and fill the material and there's a total of about almost 500 acres there that can be managed like that. So there'd be sustainability of that project, not just a onetime felling of the trees.

, it's planned over about a 15 year cycle because when you get about a half a mile north of there, then we can do commercial. They're doing commercial management. But this was a large acre, 500 acres, it was untouchable prior to this trail. If you're looking to simplify your [00:28:00] food plot system while enhancing the quality of your soil, you need to check out Vitalize Seed Company.

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Find out more about this system and get your seed at vitalizedseed. com and be sure to check them out on Instagram and Facebook. Now explain to me and the listeners for that matter, how do you approach? Or target the type of cutting that's needed in a forest. There's different types of cuts and I don't know the ins and outs of what they are and what they mean.

But, in my mind, when I think a closed canopy forest, I think... Make sunlight. That's all I think is cut a lot, but I mean there's other ways [00:29:00] How are you attacking that and I'm curious then what's some of the species that you're really trying to promote in that case?

Okay? You want to answer, but yeah, I'll take a crap then you Sure, take oaks for example oaks are a little tricky from a silvicultural from a forestry point of view because You need to get some sunlight on the ground so when the acorn germinates and grows a seedling, that seedling can get established.

If you cut an oak forest without having that so called advanced regeneration, those young seedlings, you may wind up with something else. So often with an oak forest, and there are a lot of different kinds of oak forests, but in general terms, you often need to open up the forest, the canopy a little bit.

Hopefully you got some acorns, you got some young seedlings already established. You give them some time, they get established better, and then you can go back with subsequent management. Maybe you have some [00:30:00] invasives you gotta take care of, maybe there's some ferns. It's often a multi year, multi step process.

It's like... It's a lot more like gardening than just clogging, right? It's a long term relationship with particular stands and that's why foresters and biologists are so critical in these projects But so you got to open up the stand open up the canopy get some light on the ground as Jan was talking about Get those seedlings going and then you can open up the canopy more Or even take off the canopy and so called regeneration harvest That's the sort of general process with oak silviculture.

There's a lot of nuances and complications. And many complications, and unfortunately it all starts with an acorn and we need an acorn crop. Okay. If we don't get an acorn, a good acorn crop for a number of years. And wildlife, as consumes many acorns. Sure. There used to be a statistic, I don't know if it's still valid, out of every hundred acorns that was produced, five to ten [00:31:00] actually germinate, get a chance to germinate, and start to grow.

So when you start to think if that's still true, and I, that was a statistic from years ago, from Ohio. I don't know, but anyway, my point of it is, you need a good acorn crop for, to get an oak tree. You don't have an acorn crop for five years. You don't, chances of establishing and managing that site are virtually zero.

You're not going to harvest something that's not silviculturally sound. Silviculture is the art and science of growing trees. Okay, whatever the species be and whatever it be. When I worked, we used what was called oak silva, which is from up on the Allegheny. And it was a guiding tool. It wasn't the be all to end all, but it was a tool to make, help you make decisions based on that plus your experience over the last 20 years on adjacent sites or what worked or what didn't work or approaches you tried with fire or with invasive species and all those.

And then the unknown was always the white tailed deer. We do everything and it seems like it's all dovetailing together and you're thinking man, and this is about a 20 year process So that's how we viewed it. It's about a 20 year process to start with an [00:32:00] overstory That's closed to a young forest that's been regenerated with a fair portion of oak And then you interject higher deer numbers at year three four five six as the seedlings are this tall and trying to grow Then we're back almost to square one.

So part of the overall management has been alluded to You have good plans, but the plans for us tend to go awry. We were on game lands. We did not have deer management assistance program. That's since come into as a tool this year for the first time. Prior to that, we just tried to direct hunters to locations to harvest additional deer.

And we wanted, we didn't want the forest barren of deer. We just didn't want a deer behind every other tree. And some game lands over the years had those kind of conditions. And some due to this very day. Yes, and some people are unwilling to harvest animals. Some people are willing to walk more than a half a mile.

Some people want every road open so they can drive to wherever. All that was part of those nuances of trying to manage a stand, or stands, or a site that [00:33:00] complicated our ability to put A young forest on the ground and it goes back to people management, which is why I asked you that question in the first place and to back up to your original question.

Yeah. How do we make those decisions? These guys, professionals, foresters, biologists. We don't make the decisions. We go to the professionals and take their advice and let foresters manage the forest and biologists talk with the foresters and how to create the habitat we're looking for. It's all driven by professionals.

We don't go out there and say oh, we're gonna create grouse habitat It's you know, the Forest Bureau the game Commission, biologists So it always falls back on professionals. This is all scientific, professionally driven. Sure. So from like a, from a cutting standpoint, we talked about Oak regeneration, but there's so much more to the whole to the old picture.

Exactly. And that there's a grassland component. There's a shrub component. There's [00:34:00] a a deciduous forest component. There, there's so many different components to that. And I'll be frank, I really don't know. The the daily scope of grouse and woodcock and the species specific that they need in order to thrive from a food.

I understand that cover and thick. I used to think when I was bear hunting, e everything that I went through from a bear hunting standpoint was fantastic. Grass cover. 'cause I used to flush grass in it. Sure. And it was thick. Laurel Road, Denver. There's so much more to that. So just walk us through some of that other.

That other species regeneration that we're really trying to accomplish with some of these cuts and anything else outside of the Oak. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, we have a lot of tulip poplar. Okay. That was the next most dominant species. And we'd gotten to the point and it was a long learning curve.

Don't get me wrong. This wasn't something we learned overnight, but we had gotten it down to the point that in most tulip stands, we were able to successfully regenerate them in five to seven years while we were ready. Through a simple process of what's called a two stage shelter. Wood, you interject some sunlight, control the vegetation on the ground, [00:35:00] Tula seedlings.

Tula produces tremendous amounts of seed, yes, every year. Now, not all of it's viable, but it produces a lot of seed. And as that gets established and grows, it grows at two times, three times the size, the rate of an oak seedling, I don't at least, okay. A two year old tulip seeding will be two to three feet tall.

A two year old oak seedling is going to be about six inches. I just know I have to loosen the straps on my tree stands a lot quicker if it's on a poplar. Yeah, sure. Yes. Okay. And my point is, in those sites where we had tulip, we were able to manage that and produce habitat in a relatively short and very successful time period.

Okay. To the point that it almost became... I hate to use the word easy, but it became pretty dependable. Maybe that's a better word, dependable, that we could do that. When we got outside of those tulip stands, which are primarily south sloping, moisture, some moisture, a little bit of moisture in the ground, or on the north side, a little bit of tulip, where there was a little moisture on the north side, down low on the toe slope, [00:36:00] things like that.

We could manage those pretty successfully. When you got into that in between site, between the good growing site and the top of the mountain, That those were more of a challenge because there's where you had Laurel you had other things and there's where the deer were the biggest factor And everything else wants to grow on the real good sites, but not on the poor sites.

So there's where the deer became the biggest factor for us, particularly on the Blue Mountain. That kid a titty ridge. We had some failures. There's no doubt about it. We had some failures up there in the Blue Mountain. Okay? Failures are your best experiences for learning. Yeah. The deer got ahead of it.

And we were not, at that point, able to fence. We were not allowed to use deer fencing until year 2000. That was the first year we were allowed to put fencing up. So the net result was, in the 80s and 90s, when deer numbers were very high, we faced some major challenges. And some of them were successful, and some of them were not successful.

Meaning we got something growing, but we certainly didn't get what our target species was, and the stem density that we were looking for. And [00:37:00] that's the key, Dave, right there. When you asked, what does a grouse and woodcock need? Food, water, cover. Sure. Same as anything else needs. What's food for grouse?

Grouse eat a multitude of herbaceous growth. Buds, berries, acorns. Food isn't usually an issue with grouse. Cover for grouse to flourish needs a dense stem count. I don't know 000 seedlings to the acre is desirable. That's the most important factor that protects them from birds of prey, ground predators.

So that's the type of habitat that's critical to get them to a later stage in life. Obviously water is for grouse. It could be a puddle, a stream, a seat. And all that needs to be in a close proximity because the grouse has a very small home range. Yeah, that's one thing I know.

Grouse, [00:38:00] Woodcock, what is the home, what kind of home range are you looking at? Woodcock's migratory. Yeah, Woodcock's a migratory bird, so they go all the way from Canada to Louisiana and the Carolinas. And so localized impact on them, same thing. High stem counts because they're loafing during the day and they do most of their feeding at night.

Okay. They'll fly to open areas at night and, they eat a lot of earthworms and those sorts of things. But, so the habitat is very similar in pockets. Now a grouse, I'm told, and Dave may be able to shed some light on this, lives a large percent of, percentage of his life within a six acre block.

About a 50 acre home range is what's a number we always were told. I don't know what you've heard, Ben, but yeah. Meaning they spend their whole life, depending on the habitat and availability of food sources, they'll bounce around that area, and then there's going to be a core area where they find [00:39:00] most of their sustainable, able to sustain their life on this area primarily.

And we're back to diversity game. We need all that in 50 acres. We need mature forests, we need dense stem counts, we need herbaceous growth, we need water. A staggering canopy. Yeah. Absolutely. Exactly. Absolutely. Yeah, I yeah, the one thing that rings in my ears all the time and it goes back to the deer conversation.

I, I'm too young. I'm too far gone to know the history of how hunting was, but I've heard stories of, generations ahead of me talking about how great the deer hunting was, how great The populations were, and why can't we sustain that and understanding or how to explain a boom bust carrying capacity what's going on is really difficult.

And I guess in my small mind, I always thought that maybe the rate of return with good management practices would be quicker than what we've seen in some cases. [00:40:00] It's just, it's so much work to be able to connect the pieces of the puzzle like you were talking because. Doing a 20 acre restoration, a 50 acre restoration is great, but you need massive amounts to overcome that because with what do you say?

12 million acres of the same. Yeah. Yeah. 12 million acres of forest in Pennsylvania. Other 19 million acres. Yeah. And it's all the same age, like pretty much the same age. And this is one thing I don't know. So I think about the forest was. basically clear cut in that time frame. I'm being beyond high graded.

What kind of impacts did that have on the forest stand to impact like the timber management now? Because that's a huge part of getting the timber cuts. accomplished because money makes the world go round, right? You got to remember one thing. Deer numbers were exceedingly low at that time period.

So deer impacts did not become a problem. During the 30s, they used to refer to the red brush. That was all the red maple that was coming back and growing at that point. Okay, and the deer numbers went like this. They had two hard winters and the deer [00:41:00] population collapsed again. because of that. But prior, when that harvesting was occurring, deer numbers were exceedingly low.

So generally what species were there, even if it was just stump sprouts, now conifers don't sprout. You have to understand that. Any of the conifers, primarily hemlock and white pine, do not sprout. So those components could have been lost or were greatly reduced because of no advanced seedlings. The other species that do sprout, which is all the other deciduous hardwoods, They would have sprouted and should have prospered quite well, including the oaks.

American chestnut, which was another dominant species on the landscape, got removed by the chestnut blight starting in 1906. So that changed the dynamics of the forest and the food resource of the forest at the same time. Today the American chestnut Barely exist in most locations. I find one or two a year.

Yes, that's correct. Okay. And it would have been about 30 percent of the trees in the forest prior to the blight, the impacts of the blight. So that changed the wildlife and the wildlife habitat because that chestnut was a [00:42:00] great food source. They produced chestnuts year after year. So when the oaks failed or the cherries failed or the younger, the shrub component failed, there was always the chestnut to pick it up or carry it forward.

That went by the wayside. So that changed, A, the dynamics of the forest, the management of the forest, and C, the impact for, the benefit for wildlife at the same time. Yeah, I didn't even think about that because I we're talking about oaks, boom and bust. The past three years in, in one of the locations upstate that I, I bear hunt at, it has been bust.

We've had very poor acorn crops and it fluctuates. And I didn't even think about the dynamic of the forest where one's getting, one, one's dampening off, another one's picking up the pace from a wildlife standpoint, as well as a forest standpoint, the whole ecosystem. You talked about the chestnut blight.

A couple of other things that come to my mind, the ash borer had a major impact on changing our forest. Did that have an impact on grouse Woodcock habitat at the same time? In my experience, first off, you got to think we're white ash primer. It's [00:43:00] predominantly white ash. It's been impacted. If they, the ash borer affects all the ash, there's green ash, black ash, red ash, and white ash.

If I, those are the four I'm thinking of. White ash is the most prevalent. It's generally a moist site stream bottom. rich, fertile sites, not on an upland site at all. So the benefit for wildlife, and it produces seed, and I'm sure squirrels will eat it. I'm assuming small rodent, any small rodent would utilize it.

As far as deer or bear, grouse, turkeys, woodcock, I don't see much there from a... food source loss. They're going to benefit from the habitat coming behind it as long as it's not invasive species. And that's what we're seeing. That's where I'm saying. Let's talk about that a little bit too, because invasive species we've talked about on the show for other aspects and stuff and has a major impact.

But some of the biggest threats that I think about, Basically, anything with Japanese in front of it seems to be a major problem. And I don't mean that derogatory, but it's the truth. Jap, Japanese stilt grass, honeysuckle yada, and autumn olive, barberry, there's all kinds of stuff.

But what [00:44:00] are some of the things that are coming? What are any more pronounced than others in some of the sites you work at as far as difficulty in management? Go ahead, you can deal with that one. Yeah, there's all kinds of, like you said, you ran through the list and there are others.

What it does is it makes it harder, especially for private landowners, that don't have a budget to spray. They don't have a forester that helps them figure out when to spray. Definitely agencies have a hard time. But I've been thinking a lot about how hard it is for private, family forest owners to, to deal with invasives.

Luckily, we've been getting some money from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and some other sources to help private forest owners do some good management, including spraying some invasives. But, yeah, it's a real challenge. It's it's adding to the complexity of forest management, for sure.

Absolutely. So when it comes to management, like anytime I get rid of something, you need something to replace it. [00:45:00] And I've had that in my own struggles where I'll try to get rid of, I'm just going to throw one out, still grass. Japanese still grass is a big problem. But I've had the problem where it's coming back and it's not getting replaced.

And I'm sure there's plenty of examples of why that would be. But I struggle to know like what the right steps are in some cases when it comes to. removal. Is it's because it's not as easy as removing it and we're done, right? No. Unfortunately, no. Far from it. Think of it this way. Most invasive species, they germinate earlier than native species.

So they get a jump on the growing season when we start to green up in the spring. When they're producing their seed, they're very prolific seed producers. And what they've learned with silkgrass in particular is the seed is viable for up to about five years in the leaf litter. You have a seed bank.

If you think of where the leaves fall and everything that falls into that top, we'll say three quarters of an inch. In there is all kinds of seeds. Some of them are going to germinate, some of them aren't. If they're, if most of [00:46:00] those are invasive species, they're going to get a jump on anything else that germinates.

And there's enough seed there that they're going to overwhelm or out compete. Other species, desirable species, particularly native species, for example, an oak, an acorn, or a tulip poplar, red maple, birch, a beech, whatever, okay, those kind of things. The invasive species issue, when I was working and continues to be, was a challenging issue because funding was critical on public land.

And how much of it is a timing aspect as well from the management side of things, as far as removal? From my standpoint, We timed it that we were gonna, we had a sale planned and marked and ready to be sold before we wanted to treat the site with any kind of a herbicide. So we had a small window of generally, depending on which herbicides were used and how successful they were, three to five years.

We had a window that we could try to capture that establishment of that advanced regeneration as Ben alluded to. Those young seedlings that are there and we're trying to [00:47:00] grow them through the process. The timing was critical. The funding was critical. Some years we had a lot of funding, some years we didn't have much funding.

That, that was the ebb and flow of the public working for a public agency. Let's talk about management tools. We talked a lot about cutting, but we mentioned fire a little bit. I had John Wakefield on the podcast a number of years ago talking about yeah, talking about fire and management and everything else.

And a lot of that comes down to, again, manpower and getting the right burn days because there's only a few amount of burn days throughout the year. That's controversial too though and there's so many people that want to say bad things about fire just because of the timing whether it's Spring gobbler or nesting or something along those lines.

Heard those. Yep. Heard those. That's a tough one. But can you guys just enlighten us a little bit from the Avenue when you're thinking about habitat restoration from Woodcock and Grouse too? There's a game lands in Northern Dauphin County. That's 12, 000 acres. Timber quality on about [00:48:00] 9, 000 acres of it is very poor.

Not enough to sustain. Active management most of the time. So fire became the major tool for management. You gotta understand in Pennsylvania prior to 2009, if we wanted to use prescribed fire, which we did not, and I was the person that authorized the burn and lit the match, I was personally responsible for anything that happened with that fire.

I don't have deep pockets. So needless to say, that didn't happen. Okay. In 2009, the law changed and it allowed, and it changed that responsibility to more training, more qualifications, but the agency assumed the liability. So the burn program for the Pennsylvania game commission jump started to move forward in 2009, 2010, we conducted our first burn by 2014.

We had conducted two aerial burns on this large game lands in Dauphin County. We burnt. 600 and about 50 acres in a day with aerial burn using a helicopter dropping [00:49:00] we call them ping pong balls, little fireballs that hit and incinerate. Anyway, the next day the fire was out, everything went fine. I got two calls from people that won the spring gobbler hunt.

They were irate over the fact that we had burnt the area they wanted to hunt. The next day, I got a call from a guy who went into the burn, called a gobbler in and shot it, and he was happy as all get out. Okay. Now people learn it's a magnet to go through. Yeah, okay. And it, the word got out there that this isn't always a bad thing.

Okay, but until people learn that or experience that, you can imagine how people react to it. And they don't react real positively. Habitat is a big threat, but there's other threats to... To Grouse, Woodcock, and let's touch base on them a little bit before we, we wrap this up too because I've heard a host of different things and I feel like From the general population standpoint anytime something is wrong It's pointed to the most obvious or the easiest thing to [00:50:00] point and I think about like turkeys and grouse people blame West Nile or we'll blame predators.

Those are the easiest things to point the fingers at and they are important and I wouldn't mind bringing those up before we let this loud diesel truck go past us before we answer that. But yeah, other avenues or other issues that we have as far as sustaining populations outside the habitat.

Really that the only tool in the toolbox is fantastic habitat. Grouse can sustain predation. They can sustain disease. Sure. When they have great habitat, flourishing populations. Where it gets tricky and what happens now in Pennsylvania is isolated populations in mediocre habitat. And there's a big effect on those [00:51:00] birds.

But from a conservation standpoint and a group our only tool is to increase the amount and the quality of habitat to help them sustain those challenges. They bounce back a lot faster. Okay. As Jan said, if they have good habitat. We're not going to get rid of West Nile. We can help. The birds help the populations be more resilient.

I don't know much about West Niles. Is there like, how severe is that? How prevalent is that? Is it, is there any data that suggests it can have X percentage of impact? I don't, I know nothing about it and its potential. And I wonder what is out there? I don't remember that study from Michigan.

Michigan was working on a study. In conjunction with some of the other states, maybe you'd want to reach out to the Game Commission, Rouse, Rough Grouse Biologist, and they could provide more information for you, or maybe a suggested podcast, maybe along those lines might be a better tool. They've been testing, they've been [00:52:00] asking grouse hunters to send in blood samples, and they're finding out that grouse are becoming more resilient to it.

There's birds that are actually testing positive for the antibodies and titers. And survived. And that's natural progression. That's herd immunity. So they're gonna get there. But it's still a huge concern again on weakened, decimated populations and poor habitat. And like Ben said, we're not gonna get rid of it.

One other consideration from a habitat perspective that both Ben and Jan alluded to is winter, wintertime. Okay. Wildlife has to survive in the winter with the habitat that's available. If it's quality habitat, the wildlife comes through the winter generally in pretty good condition, okay? Come spring, they're going to reproduce and the population will do its thing.

If the habitat is poor or there's no winter thermal cover or things like that, [00:53:00] then wildlife is going to struggle and those isolated populations are probably going to crash to almost nothing. Part of that picture is some of the impacts of invasives, again, on the hemlock, okay? Hemlock will a del has been a major factor in this part of the state.

Now, when you get up into North Central, above a, isn't it, I think it's 1500 feet or 1800, there's a threshold number. The impacts are not as great, but in this part of the state, part of the northeast, how central Southeast, the impacts have been, I won't say a hundred percent. 95% of the hemlocks have been gone.

Yeah. Okay. And those are the ones that protect the streams. Water quality, that's changing to deciduous species. That's changing that winter thermal cover, that escape cover. That's changing the quality of the water at the same time. So again, those invasives that we've alluded to about other impacts for forest management are affecting winter thermal management also.

Let's let's wrap this up because I know I'm between you guys and dinner and there's a lot of other stuff, good stuff going on, but one thing I want to close out, when we, I'm always interested in the science, as you guys can [00:54:00] tell, I wanted to pick your brains from that, but you got a lot of people on here are hunters and I said before, I'm deer hunter, bear hunter, turkey hunter, I don't spend much time, but let's say I get outside my blockhead and it's a big game and I say, you know what?

I want to go grouse hunting this year. And one of the things I do from a scouting standpoint for whitetails, like I love the DCNR maps of when things were cut. We have it for the state agencies. I like to get the age of the cuts and think about, okay, how am I going to approach this from deer's use?

What's that prime time for that cut and how I'm going to use it. So with that information in mind, like what is if I'm going to say this is the type of thing I want to target, because I want to go try to hunt some grouse. What am I going to be looking for? I, if I was hunting grouse in the Southeast, I would be looking for clear cuts that are about five to seven years old.

Stem densities are going to be at their max at that point. The hardest to shoot through. Unfortunately, but the soft mass, particularly like black berries, maybe if there's black raspberries or red rasp, red raspberries, [00:55:00] and if there's any ground nesting or ground species, parsley berry, tea berry, things like that, the food's going to be there.

If the food's in those cuts or on those edges of those cuts, the grouse are going to be there. If there's a grape crop, they're going to be there for grapes. Okay, things like that. That's the first thing that comes to my mind is what is a grapevines and back to habitat If you can't shoot them, that's good habitat.

Yeah, and it's working the way it's supposed to work. All right, they're safe and protected Not just from you avian predators and everything else. Absolutely. It always goes back to ideal habitat We can send a hundred hunters through there. They're not gonna get them very few of them if you go in, one of the things the Game Commission is doing this year for the first time, at this banquet, there's a map for everybody.

They're going to highlight a habitat project each and every year at the Grouse Banquet, okay? And they're going to speak a little bit, one of the foresters is going to talk a little bit about what it is. And if you look on, like at the map, it's to give people an [00:56:00] insight of what's happening on game lands, and here's a spot to consider hunting.

And it's a little bit of a hook to get people to come to an RGS banquet at the same time. Yeah. There's always got to be a piece of cake for somebody at the end of it, sure. Guys, thank you so much for doing this. Anything you want to leave us with? Things you goals? Things you're going in the next few few weeks, months, years?

The one thing I want to leave you with roughgrousesociety. org. Is that our website? Thank you very much. Good idea. roughgrousesociety. org All the information on what's going on, is on there. There's news and press releases. There's an RGS store. You can get garb. There's blogs on there. There's habitat things that you're asking about.

Events, what's happening. Absolutely. I would encourage everyone, roughgrasssociety. org. You can get a whole lot of information there. What's the best way to get involved? Join. Become a member of a chapter. I just joined tonight. [00:57:00] Yep. Awesome. Thank you very much. Great. Good deal. Thank you very much, gentlemen, for for coming on.

This is great conversation. I hope this gets people excited and thinking about early succession habitats. Because this is stuff I know most hunters and boars, but I love it. This is fun. Thanks for having us. It's the least desirable to hunt. Thank you.