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DNR working with conservation groups to educate, restore habitat for sharp-tailed grouse

Published: Jul. 30, 2020 at 5:12 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - For the second year in a row there will be no sharp-tailed grouse hunting in the state of Wisconsin this fall.

That's in part due to the coronavirus impacting critical data-gathering this spring on the game bird species in decline.

Once prevalent around the state, sharp-tailed grouse are now found in only Northwest Wisconsin.

"Sharp-tailed grouse is a bird that really likes open, brushy lands and of course as those brushy lands grow up into forests that's where they get in trouble as far as losing some habitat," says Bob Hanson, DNR Sharp-Tailed Grouse Program Coordinator.

Each spring, biologists and volunteers flock to the birds traditional, communal mating grounds, known as leks, to survey the population, by witnessing one of nature's unique annual rituals.

"Typically it's waking up early in the morning and going out and sitting on a lek, either in a blind of from afar and counting the number of birds you're seeing out there dancing, as far as males, and then how many females come in. We weren't able to do that this year, typically we do that three times during the spring to get the best count possible," says Hanson.

With the state's Safer at Home order preventing spring survey work, and a decade of data showing the population in decline, sharp-tailed grouse will be off limits for a second year in a row.

During the last hunting season in 2018, 25 hunters drew tags and harvested 11 birds.

"So pretty light harvest but this has been a bird that we've been trying to work on habitat issues to get them to come back, so we've been pretty light on them hoping to get the habitat to come back, to get the bird to come back so we can hunt them without worry is really the goal," says Hanson.

Hanson says the DNR is currently working in partnership with a number of conservation groups on educational outreach and habitat restoration efforts.

"The collaboration has been very good and we want to continue to build that so we can build the population back up to have this wonderful game bird remain in the state," says Hanson.

A cousin to the sharp-tailed grouse, the ruffed grouse, is more suited for forested areas and remains prevalent in Northern and Central Wisconsin.

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