Manitowoc County, Wis (WBAY) Concern is growing over the potential impact West Nile Virus is having on one of Wisconsin's most popular game birds.
Hunters are now being recruited to help during a multi-year monitoring program to look at West Nile in ruffed grouse.
Since 2001, when the virus first appeared in Wisconsin, birds like crows and blue jays have been the most susceptible.
But after a grouse in Michigan tested positive for the virus last year, there's concern West Nile is spreading to more bird species.
"That could be definitely part of why we're seeing those declines, not the expected growth in the survey population. The last couple years they've been kind of going up and down, they're kind of on a cyclic, about a 10 year cycle, and they've been down a little bit from what we would expect this time of year for where the cycle should be," says DNR Wildlife Biologist Steve Easterly.
In collaboration with wildlife officials in Michigan and Minnesota, along with the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, the DNR is launching a 3-year monitoring program.
Hunters heading to the north woods this fall are asked to take along a self-sampling kit for when they harvest a grouse.
"Blood samples as well as the whole heart, and there will be kits available for them, they'll have to contact their local biologist and then about the end of August we'll turn that list in and get the sample available by early September. We'll need the location, exactly where they harvested it, the body condition , the estimated age, if it's an adult of juvenile birds," says Easterly.
The DNR's goal is 400 samples per year, and Easterly says he's already hearing from hunters willing to help out.
"I have at least four samples that have been requested for my county already," says Easterly.