Project began 2017
This project is envisioned as a Pilot Study for ruffed grouse habitat projects that are design to negate the impact of West Nile Virus on carefully selected project sites, with implications far beyond the footprint of this project.
The primary threat to species reliant upon young forest (early succession habitats) is loss of habitat and lack of suitable habitat connectivity for dispersal. The amount of young forest habitat has been decreasing for decades in PA because timber harvest rates have not kept pace with forest succession. As a result, remaining early succession/young forest habitats are becoming fragmented. Fortunately, this type of fragmentation can be addressed through proper forest planning and the application of sustainable silvicultural techniques at appropriate spatial and temporal scales.
Although the focus of this project is ruffed grouse management, important multi-species benefits should result from the implementation of this plan. Game animals including cottontail rabbits, snowshoe hares, wild turkeys, bear, deer and a variety of non-game mammals and songbirds will also use the young forest habitats, native shrub areas and herbaceous openings that will be created. The impact of changing winter weather patterns on snowshoe hare and ruffed grouse in the face of climate change could be significant. Multi-species management in northern tier counties that targets these species alongside priority non-game species is especially important in light of the uncertain future impacts of climate change. Further, West Nile Virus has been shown to affect the ability of ruffed grouse to colonize suitable habitats. Focusing aggressive habitat management in dry upland sites like the proposed project area is prudent until more is understood about this issue.
This 2000 acre landscape is mostly northern hardwood forest type dominated by American beech and birch. During the 1970’s this area was hit with a sugar maple blight which killed a significant amount of sugar maple trees. Therefore, in the early to mid-1980’s numerous sugar maple salvage operations took place to remove dead trees. Following the salvage operations the areas regenerated to striped maple, beech brush and pin cherry. In an effort to improve site conditions a series of projects were implemented throughout the tract in the 1990’s. Several sites were mowed, treated with herbicide, and planted with species such as apple trees, white pine, white ash, aspen, tulip poplar and red oak. In 1994 a 65-acre block was rejuvenated with funding through the Ruffed Grouse Society. RGS funded contractors to plant more than 1,300 white spruce, 800 white pine, 100 red oak, 100 sugar maple, and 85 tulip poplar.
More recently, several timber sales have been implemented across the 2000 acre tract. Since 2003 several shelterwood and overstory removal sales were completed, totaling approximately 250 acres. A 140 acre area is currently laid out to begin cutting sometime in the next 3 years. These timber sales will create a varied mosaic of forest age classes for ruffed grouse and other wildlife species.
Currently, a 25 acre wildlife improvement project is being undertaken in the central portion of this landscape. This project includes an area where the regeneration had failed from a timber harvest in the 1980’s and was never rejuvenated in the 1990’s. Therefore, Loyalsock State Forest received funding from the Hardwood Forestry Fund to mow, herbicide and plant numerous species including aspen and oak in order to improve the area for wildlife habitat.
The area to the east of the wildlife improvement project contains hundreds of acres of pole size beech brush and birch. The area contains multiple old log landings that if rejuvenated could provide quality areas for broods to forage in close proximity to cover. This area is not commercially viable, so large-scale timber harvest is not an option. However, this does create an opportunity to enhance several hundred acres for ruffed grouse habitat while testing a forestry practice that could have implications for thousands of acres across the state. If additional funding is identified, this project could be expanded to include a much larger landscape to increase the likelihood of a significant grouse response.
Our intent is to conduct a pilot study to see if this type of low-quality beech/birch stand, which covers hundreds of thousands of acres in PA, can be improved for grouse and other young forest species. Beech and birch provides forage for grouse, snowshoes hares and other species but the 40+ yr old poor-quality site provides little to no cover. We plan to put this beech/birch dominated area into a short-rotation framework and essentially treat it (for harvest purposes) like aspen. Putting the site into a short rotation framework can create desirable structural conditions for grouse, and the 200-acre checkerboard pattern created over the long term will result in the a desirable mixture and proximity of age classes known to benefit grouse. Outcomes will be monitored via spring drumming surveys, brood surveys, or flush counts coordinated by DCNR personnel. By including results-monitoring, this pilot study can serve as a demonstration area for other land managers in the Northeast and Southcentral portions of the state where thousands and thousands of acres of similar beech/birch ‘failed stands’ occur.
Creation of early succession forest for ruffed grouse with the specific objective of improving grouse nest site availability, nest success, brood foraging habitat and brood cover in order to enhance juvenile survival and dispersal into the 2000-acres of surrounding habitat.
Implementation of a pilot study to assess the feasibility of converting low-quality beech/birch stands into high-quality grouse habitat through a short rotation patchwork with special attention to brood habitat quality.
- Produce high-quality nesting/brooding cover and brood foraging areas
- Create an intensive grouse management area by conducting the first stage of an eventual 200-acre short-rotation beech/birch harvest area.
- Retain large volume coarse woody debris on site, which has been shown to enhance brood cover in PA (Tirpak 2005).
- Approximately 40 acres will be treated over the next 3 years, which will serve as Entry 1 into a 200-acre checkerboard pattern of short rotation cuts (see Figure 2).
- Entry 1 blocks will be 10 to 15 acres.
- Blocks will be hand-felled by a contractor using RGS funds. Cost of non-commercial treatment is estimated to be $300.00 – $400.00 per acre. If contracted costs are lower than this estimate more acreage will be treated by enlarging Entry 1 block size OR creating more blocks.
- Any soft mast on site such as service berry, witch hazel and dogwood will be retained. All grape will be retained. Conifers, (pitch pine and white pine), oak and black cherry will be retained as food sources and thermal cover.
- Treatment blocks will be placed on the landscape in such a way that after 4 entries, a large-scale checkerboard pattern will be in place, with each age class (i.e. quadrant) equal to 10 acres per block (see diagram 1).
- Approximately 40-60 acres will then be cut every year, resulting in four large-scale blocks over time.
- Two blocks would be located in hard to access locations that could serve as refuge for birds to escape hunting pressure and/or production areas
- All woody material will remain on site, to enhance the availability of Course Woody Debris (CWD = debris >15 inch diameter) as nesting and brood cover
- Site will be monitored for colonizing invasive species and treated proactively using DCNR funds.
- Old log landings will be rejuvenated by planting native warm season grasses and clover, feather edges by hand-felling trees 50-100’ into the woods, and when possible planting native shrubs and conifers in and around the openings.
- Additionally, several hundred acres will be commercially treated over the next 5 years
The site lies nearby several hundred acres of commercially-treated forest, so there are likely source populations of grouse nearby that will take advantage of this new habitat. An emphasis on secure nesting habitat should improve nest success and juvenile survival, both of which are likely limiting grouse populations in the area.
The recommended treatments enhance grouse nesting/brooding habitat in the following ways:
- Increase availability of nest sites through retention of sawtimber size classes in CWD treatment areas.
- Decrease ground predator efficiency through retention of high volume course woody debris.
- Decrease avian predator efficiency through removal of all standing trees in the 10 acre hand-felled area, thereby reducing predator perches.
- Provide nest sites near edges, thereby reducing distance to forest opening.
- Provide high quality spring foraging areas by providing maximum sunlight to forest floor in areas close to nesting areas and specifically managing log landings and haul roads as herbaceous foraging / bugging areas
- Provide shelter from exposure (a known killer of young grouse) by providing high volume CWD.
This project is envisioned as a Pilot Study with implications far beyond the footprint of the project. In order to determine if the project was successful, the district plans on working with Lisa Williams, Ruffed Grouse biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission to develop a monitoring protocol. Following the development of the protocol, the district staff will conduct the surveys every year to determine if the goals of the project have been met.
Nettle Ridge Project Updates