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Genetic Resilience Offers Hope for Ruffed Grouse Conservation

Check out the latest news about the ruffed grouse...

The ruffed grouse — a long-term partner of sustainable forest management — appears to be doing better in the Northern Lake States than some hardwood forest regions to the South. Grouse populations are believed to rise and decline over a 10-year cycle making it somewhat difficult to discern a cyclical change from a longer-term trend.

Background for a 2023 Penn State University research project reported a 70% decline in grouse population since the 1960s due to an outbreak of the West Nile mosquito-borne virus and land fragmentation. The Penn State study produced a reference genome intended to allow tracking of genomic diversity as an indicator of genetic health. (link to the study:)

“By all typical metrics, the ruffed grouse is in a state of rapid decline,” said Julian Avery, associate research professor of wildlife conservation at Penn State and co-author of the paper. “Yet, until now, no one had used genetic tools to investigate the effects of this decline at a deeper level. By applying whole-genome sequencing, we have found that the bird is genetically better off than we suspected, which means that habitat protection and other management interventions can work to protect this species.

Quality forest management is an ongoing partner in grouse population maintenance, according to Jon Steigerwaldt of the Ruffed Grouse Society who is based in Wisconsin, quality forest management is an ongoing partner in grouse population maintenance. He said that populations in Wisconsin and the Northern Lake States tend to be “largely stable”.

A 2023 grouse population estimate in the State of Minnesota showed a slight increase The estimate is based on drumming counts conducted by the Minnesota DNR with assistance from federal, tribal, and county biologists conducted to estimate the population of the most popular game bird in the state. Male grouse drum in the Spring to attract a mate. Results of the Minnesota survey are available here:

Steigerwaldt said that the Ruffed Grouse Society has three specialists in Wisconsin to assist large private forest landowners based in Wisconsin with habitat advice. He credited healthy forest management with land blocks of varied ages for assisting in efforts to maintain the grouse population.

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