Electronic Field Guide » Featured Wildlife Species » Ruffed Grouse
Ruffed Grouse Management and Natural Gas DevelopmentThe ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) is Pennsylvania’s state bird and a popular upland game species. Ruffed grouse are found in patches of early successional (young) forest throughout most of Pennsylvania. Ruffed grouse numbers throughout the Appalachians have been declining along with other wildlife species found in early successional habitats. The key to maintaining young forest is to have some type of disturbance that removes the older trees, thereby allowing more sunlight to reach the forest floor. Historically, disturbance occurred in the form of severe weather events, fire, or timber harvests. The frequency and size of forest fires and timber harvests have declined over the last few decades, resulting in a loss of early successional habitat.
Prepared by Kevin Yoder and Margaret Brittingham (Ecosystem Science and Management)
Prepared by Kevin Yoder and Margaret Brittingham (Ecosystem Science and Management)
In Pennsylvania, Marcellus shale development is a form of forest disturbance that removes mature forest cover. If natural gas development occurs with care, it may be possible to use reclamation to increase the amount of early successional habitat. However, without planning up front and proper reclamation, Marcellus shale development also could be seriously detrimental for ruffed grouse and other wildlife. This article provides recommendations on how to protect or even enhance ruffed grouse habitat in the course of natural gas development activities.
Biology and Distribution
The ruffed grouse is a medium-sized game bird that is roughly the size of a small chicken. It is well camouflaged by its gray, brown, and black plumage. Grouse weigh about 1.5 pounds, the body length is 15.5 to 19 inches, and the wingspread is 22 to 25 inches. The name “ruffed” comes from a ruff of iridescent black feathers that almost completely encircles the neck. Males have much more prominent ruffs, which can be fluffed up as a courtship display.
Grouse have primitive vocal chords and are not to known to make any loud vocalizations. The sound most frequently associated with the ruffed grouse is the “drumming” of a male grouse during the spring. A male creates the drumming sound by spreading his wings and rotating them forward, then quickly backward. This creates a sudden compression and release of air pressure. The drumming sound is actually produced by the rushing of air into a momentary vacuum created by the moving wings.
A grouse will hold very still when danger is near, but quickly take flight if the danger gets too close. Ruffed grouse are quite loud and startling when taking flight but cannot fly long distances. In flight, grouse can achieve speeds of 20 miles per hour, but usually travel less than 100 yards. Ruffed grouse are nonmigratory and reside in Pennsylvania year-round.
Distribution in Pennsylvania
The ruffed grouse is North America’s most widely distributed nonmigratory upland game bird. They are found coast to coast, throughout much of Canada and the northern United States, extending south along the Appalachians to northern Georgia. Grouse are found throughout most of Pennsylvania wherever there is adequate forested habitat to support them. Today, breeding grouse are found throughout Pennsylvania except in the southeast region of the state. Grouse populations are highest in the northwest and northcentral regions of the state, where Marcellus shale development is actively occurring.
The ruffed grouse breeding season begins in late March or early April. Male grouse attract females by standing on a log and drumming. The hen lays 8 to 14 eggs over a 15-day period. Nests are on the ground and usually consist of shallow depressions at the base of a tree or stump. The hen incubates the eggs for 23 to 26 days, and the eggs generally hatch from late May to early June. For 8–12 weeks after hatching, the female leads her chicks around an area 30 to 60 acres in size. The chicks grow rapidly over the summer and by late August are similar in size and coloration to adults. By early fall broods have broken up and the juvenile birds begin dispersing into new areas. Mortality is high for these juvenile birds as they wander through new and unknown areas.
In the winter, the birds are primarily concerned with limiting heat loss. Additional feathers grow around the legs to prevent heat loss, and fleshy bristles called pectinations grow along the sides of their toes and act as snowshoes. Grouse spend most of the winter roosting in conifers or deciduous woods protected from the wind. Grouse will even dive into a snowbank and spend the night roosting in the snow if there is greater than 8 inches of powdery snow on the ground. The snow helps buffer the grouse from the cold winter air and limits body heat loss. In late March, as the weather warms and days become longer, the sound of drumming once again fills the woods and the cycle begins to repeat.
Ruffed grouse are found in large forested landscapes that contain several different ages of forest in close proximity to each other. Each forest stage provides unique resources, and grouse use them at different times throughout the year. In the spring, male grouse can be heard drumming in forest stands composed of sapling or pole-timber-sized trees where there is a closed canopy but little ground cover. This type of habitat allows grouse to watch for mammalian predators while being protected from avian predators that hunt from above. Females nest in sapling (diameter at breast height [DBH] < 5 in.) stands with open canopies, dense herbaceous understories, and ample coarse woody debris. Ideal brooding habitat consists of a combination of dense, small (< 4.5 in. DBH) woody stems and adequate herbaceous cover. Herbaceous vegetation supports ample supplies of insects and spiders, and woody vegetation conceals broods from predators. Mature forests, especially those with a large oak component, produce mast (fruits and nuts) that is an important food source in the fall and winter. Optimal ruffed grouse habitat has a mix of different-aged forest stands within close proximity to each other. The interspersion of sapling-, pole-, and sawtimber-stage forest stands provides for the multiple habitat requirements of ruffed grouse. Strategic reclamation of disturbed areas may be able to provide components of ruffed grouse habitats that are missing from the surrounding landscape.
Important Habitats to Protect During Development
One of the most important steps in protecting wildlife habitat during natural gas exploration and extraction is to identify priority wildlife habitats, which may differ depending on the species of interest. For ruffed grouse, priority habitats include aspen, soft and hard mast species, seedling/sapling forests, conifer cover, and shrublands. Landowners and/or land managers should map where these habitats occur within a property or management area prior to development occurring. Once identified and mapped, these priority areas should be restricted from any surface disturbance. It is crucial that priority habitats are identified and protected before any form of natural gas exploration or extraction begins. Landowners who have not yet signed a natural gas lease can include in the lease a map of the areas where surface development is prohibited. Natural gas can still be extracted from underneath these priority areas using horizontal drilling technology.
Ruffed grouse are habitat specialists that require a specific habitat arrangement to thrive. The best grouse habitat includes a balanced mix of sapling, pole, and mature forests. Land managers interested in protecting ruffed grouse habitat during natural gas development should retain the limiting habitat components around the proposed development location. For example, if the surrounding landscape is extensive mature forests, then any patches of early successional forests should be protected from development. If ample amounts of sapling- and pole-stage forest are already present, then stands of mature, mast-producing trees should be protected.
Important food sources should be protected whenever possible. These include mast-producing trees such as oak (Quercus spp.), cherry (Prunus spp.), and serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), and mast-producing shrubs such as hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), dogwood (Cornus spp.), and sumac (Rhus spp.). Species that produce and retain soft mast close to the forest floor can be crucial food sources for ruffed grouse in the fall. These species include grape (Vitis spp.), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), and greenbriar (Smilax spp.). Grouse will also feed on the buds and twigs of preferred species during the winter and early spring before green up occurs. Preferred browse species to protect are aspen and black cherry, as well as grey birch, yellow birch, hornbeam, hophornbeam, apple, sumac, hazel, serviceberry, and choke cherry.
Stands of aspen (Populus spp.) should always be protected when managing for ruffed grouse. Aspen is a crucial food and cover source for ruffed grouse, and grouse densities are highest in habitats containing aspen. Aspen is generally uncommon in Pennsylvania, so stands of aspen should not be destroyed.
Moist areas within oak/hickory forests should also be protected. These sites support relatively abundant herbaceous communities that provide food for ruffed grouse. Grouse that inhabit these mesic sites have smaller home ranges, which is an indication of higher quality habitats. Examples of these habitats include moist hollows and coves. They are commonly found at the bottom of slopes and on north- or east-facing slopes. Trees that may be indicators for these sites include tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), basswood (Tilia americana), white ash (Fraxinus americana), and sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Abandoned or fallow fields should also be protected because the edges of these fields are often used as brooding habitat.
When there is not enough snow accumulation to allow snow roosting, ruffed grouse typically roost in dense conifer cover. Protect stands of eastern hemlock and eastern white pine to provide conifer cover for grouse as well as multiple other species of wildlife. Healthy stands of hemlock should especially be protected because the amount of hemlock habitat is rapidly decreasing in Pennsylvania and hemlocks are difficult to replace.
Natural gas infrastructure should be located in areas that provide little or no food or cover for ruffed grouse. Mature forests with little understory growth and few mast-producing species (such as forests dominated by red maple) are suitable locations for natural gas infrastructure. Agricultural fields and pastures are not used by ruffed grouse and are ideal locations for natural gas–related disturbances. Develop a plan on where infrastructure will be located and why. Cluster infrastructure as much as possible to reduce the overall development footprint. Clustering includes running pipelines adjacent to roads or powerlines, placing well pads next to existing roads or other edges, and locating any necessary impoundments or compressor stations next to well pads or other infrastructure.
Restoration and Creation of Ruffed Grouse Habitat
Natural gas development may significantly alter the structure and function of Pennsylvania’s forests. Natural gas development is a source of disturbance that is new to most of Pennsylvania. How ruffed grouse and other wildlife species respond to these disturbances depends partly on how the disturbed areas are reclaimed. Sources of food and cover can be provided for ruffed grouse and other wildlife through reclamation. The following ruffed grouse habitat needs can be addressed through reclamation.
Initial Reclamation Steps
Before any type of final reclamation planting begins, any rock or other fill materials that were used to create a pad needs to be removed from the site. Next, the disturbed area being reclaimed needs to be recontoured back to the original slope. It is important to limit soil compaction during this process. Soil compaction occurs when heavy equipment continuously drives over the soil while recontouring the site. Compacted soil can limit root growth and plant survival, especially for trees and shrubs. There are certain steps that operators can follow while recontouring the site to limit soil compaction and create a suitable growing site for trees and shrubs. Information about these low-compaction methods can be found under Soil Compaction and Repairing Soil Compaction in this field guide.
Essentially all natural gas–related reclamation projects include an initial planting of herbaceous vegetation to stabilize the soil and reduce erosion and sedimentation problems. Some herbaceous species can also provide food and cover for wildlife. Depending on the vegetation planted, herbaceous openings can support substantial levels of insects and become great sites for ruffed grouse and wild turkey broods.
The first few weeks of life are critical for ruffed grouse chicks. These young birds must feed heavily on protein-rich insects, but must also elude predators. Therefore, brood hens search for areas with plentiful invertebrates and escape cover. Herbaceous vegetation is likely the primary factor driving brood habitat selection. Broods do not use early successional habitats with good overhead cover unless adequate ground cover is also present. One study showed that broods in Pennsylvania were 70% more likely to occupy a site with each 10% increase in percentage ground cover. A relatively simple way to create brooding habitat through reclamation is the creation of small herbaceous openings.
Herbaceous openings for grouse should be planted in vegetation that is not too dense; produces leaves, fruit, or seeds that grouse eat; and supports abundant insects and spiders. Grouse broods prefer herbaceous openings that enable them to move around freely. Perennial cool-season grasses such as tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata), bluegrass (Poa pratensis), ryegrass (Lolium perenne), and timothy (Phleum pratense) should not be planted when managing for wildlife. Cool-season grasses grow too densely and create a thick monoculture that restricts chick movement. Perennial grasses also choke out other vegetation, which lowers the diversity of vegetation.
Alternatives to cool-season grasses can be used that produce seed, support an abundance of invertebrates, and do not restrict chick movement. Examples of alternative species include wheat (Triticum aestivum), cereal rye (Secale cereale), oats (Avena sativa), clovers (Trifolium spp.), partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculate),and birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). Wheat, rye, and oats are annual grains often used as cover crops. These species can germinate and grow quickly, stabilizing the soil and helping operators meet erosion and sedimentation control guidelines. But unlike cool-season grasses, annual grains live for only one growing season, so they do not outcompete other perennial species. Planting annual grains in conjunction with perennials such as clover, partridge pea, or birdsfoot trefoil will create long-term brooding habitat while also stabilizing the soil.
When seeded and managed properly, forest roads and pipelines can be turned into “linear openings” for wildlife, providing increased habitat interspersion, quality forage, and attractive brood habitat. Researchers throughout the central Appalachians have found that grouse broods frequently forage along the edges of small, low-activity forest roads. Roads that were used in this way were often gated, contained a well-developed herbaceous layer, and were either completely canopied or immediately adjacent to forest stands. This habitat is very similar in structure to gathering lines that are used to transport natural gas from the well to larger pipelines. Seeding pipelines in clovers or other forbs could create miles of brooding habitat.
In addition to being used as brooding habitat, herbaceous openings can produce large quantities of food for adult ruffed grouse. Forest openings are important foraging habitats, especially within oak/hickory-dominated forests during years with little mast. Grouse foraging in herbaceous openings will eat green leaves, grass and forb seeds, and the insects and spiders attracted to the opening. Leaves and flowers are important during the spring and summer and during winters with poor mast yields. About 5% of an area with existing grouse habitat should be devoted to forest openings.
The key to providing food for grouse is to avoid reclaiming with grasses. In the central Appalachians, researchers recently studied which foods grouse were eating before the breeding season began. Of the 326 crops examined before the breeding season, no grass of any kind was found in measurable amounts. From this research, it is apparent that areas reclaimed with grasses are of little use for ruffed grouse.
Seeding openings with forbs such as clovers or partridge pea leads to herbaceous openings that have forage and adequate structure for brooding habitat. The Ruffed Grouse Society sells a seed mixture of clovers called the RGS Trail Mix. This mix contains crimson clover, red clover, alsike clover, white clover, and chicory. Clovers are some of the most nutritious and protein-rich plants that grouse eat. This seed mixture is specifically designed for food plots, roads, or log landings, areas that typically have some shading during part of the day. This mixture will likely be suitable for use on reclaimed pipelines, well pads, and impoundments. The recommended sowing rate is 12 pounds per acre. The RGS Trail Mix is available for purchase online.
Another mixture (Central Appalachian mix) that has worked well in the Appalachian region includes (per acre) 50 pounds of wheat, 4 pounds of ladino white clover, 2 pounds of white-dutch clover, and 2 pounds of birdsfoot trefoil. When planting this mixture, sow and lightly disk the wheat into the soil prior to sowing the small clover and trefoil seed. After planting, the seedbed should be firmed using a cultipacker. If a grain drill is used, the wheat and clover/trefoil seed must be planted in separate seed boxes. All legume seed should be inoculated with species-specific inoculant unless preinoculated seeds are sown. Refer to Herbaceous Openings in this field guide for additional planting information.
Table 1. Seed mixtures to plant when reclaiming disturbed sites for ruffed grouse.
RGS Grouse Trail Mix Seed at 12 lbs/ac
Crimson Clover 19.90%
Redlan Max Red Clover 16.44%
Alsike Clover 14.78%
Hunt Club Brand White Clover 13.10%
Jumbo II White Clover 9.80%
Plot Enhancer Brand Chicory 3.27%
Other Crop 0.12%
Inert Matter 22.5%
Central Appalachian Mix Seed at 58 lbs/ac
Ladino White Clover 6.90%
White Dutch Clover 3.45%
Birdsfoot Trefoil 3.45%
Grouse provide for their nutritional needs over winter by browsing on twigs and buds of preferred woody species. Preferred species are aspen and black cherry, as well as gray birch, yellow birch, hornbeam, hophornbeam, apple, sumac, hazel, serviceberry, choke cherry, and fire cherry. These species can be planted in clumps or hedgerows within herbaceous openings or along the periphery of the opening. A reclaimed area with a combination of forbs, hard and soft mast, and preferred bud and twig species can provide year-round food for ruffed grouse.
Occasional mowing of openings is acceptable as long as it does not occur between April 15 and August 1. Mowing during the spring and summer can destroy nests and kill young birds that are not able to escape the mower. Mowing should also not occur after mid-September. Clovers and other forbs usually survive the winter better if left near 8 inches or longer in height. Over time, native shrubs such as blackberries, raspberries, hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), and witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) will invade the edges of the opening. These species are excellent food sources and should be encouraged to grow along the edges of the herbaceous openings. They should not be cut.
Herbaceous openings should include some shrubs or trees that provide cover for broods. Ruffed grouse broods will use the edges of herbaceous openings but avoid the interior of large openings. Ideal openings for grouse are less than 2 acres and irregularly shaped. Most well pads are larger than this. To make the openings smaller and provide escape cover, plant woody species along the edge of the opening or in patches or winding strips within the opening. Planting clumps or rows of shrubs every 150 feet or so enhances the reclaimed site for grouse and other wildlife. Hedgerows can be planted to break the opening into smaller segments (<0.5 acre). Hedgerows should be 30-50 feet wide and irregularly shaped.
When small trees and shrubs are planted on the edge of herbaceous openings, it creates a gradual transition from forest to opening. This “feathered edge” benefits wildlife because of increased vertical diversity. One species to plant along the edges of openings is Allegheny blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis), which grows very dense and provides escape cover. Blackberry also provides an important summer food source for grouse, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, black bears, and multiple other species. Other species to plant for this use include American hazelnut (Corylus americana), crabapples, dogwoods, elderberry (Sambucus spp.), hawthorn, mulberry (Morus spp.), viburnums (Viburnum spp.), and aspen.
Another way to create a feathered edge is by doing a border-edge cut, in which all trees over 15 feet tall are cut and left to lay on the ground. The woody debris acts as escape cover, and the increased light will lead to a flush of new shrubs and saplings. Border-edge cuts should extend 30-50 feet into the forest along the edges of restored well pads, impoundments, or pipelines.
Mast-producing trees and shrubs
Hard mast and soft mast are both important fall and winter food sources for ruffed grouse. Hard mast is defined as hard-shelled seeds or nuts such as acorns, chestnuts, hickory nuts, and beech nuts. Soft mast is seed covered with fleshy fruit. Soft mast trees and shrubs that benefit ruffed grouse include blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), cherries, hawthorns, dogwood, greenbriar (Smilax spp.), grapes (Vitis spp.), serviceberry, blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), huckleberries (Gaylussacia spp.), blackberries and raspberries (Rubus spp.), hollies (Ilex spp.), and apples and crabapples (Malus spp.).
Several mast-producing shrubs and trees are suitable for reclamation projects. Shrubs to plant include American hazelnut, crabapples, dogwoods, elderberry, hawthorn, mulberry, and viburnums. Trees to plant include apple, serviceberry, oaks, and chestnuts (Castanea spp.). For information on the steps involved with tree planting, please visit the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, Planting hardwood tree seedlings on reclaimed mine land in Appalachia.
Aspen is important to grouse in every stage of the tree’s life cycle. Young aspen stands (1–20 years) produce excellent protective cover, because aspen stem density may approach 30,000 stems per acre following a timber harvest. Male grouse use pole-stage aspens as drumming locations during the spring. Grouse seek out mature aspen stands in winter and during the critical prebreeding season of March and April. Buds from mature aspen are an important food source in winter and early spring, when prebreeding condition is being established. An abundance of high quality foods such as aspen during the prebreeding season improves female condition, egg quality, and chick survival. In Pennsylvania, aspen is an important grouse food where it occurs. In fact, during a recent multistate Appalachian grouse study, aspen flower buds were found in the crops of all birds from the Pennsylvania study site (Clearfield and Elk Counties). Aspen may be an ideal species to plant on reclaimed well pads because it grows rapidly in full sunlight and tolerates low pH and dry conditions. For more information on planting aspen and other tree species, please visit the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, Planting hardwood tree seedlings on reclaimed mine land in Appalachia.
Once aspens become established, they rapidly invade surrounding open ground by sending out root-producing suckers that grow into new trees and result in the development of a clone. Clonal expansion can be as much as 40 feet in a decade. As the trees mature, suckering begins to decrease. Actively growing aspen twigs produce an auxin hormone that inhibits root sprout growth. Cutting the trees results in a flush of suckers that creates great cover for ruffed grouse and other wildlife. Aspen clones should be cut when the trees reach 20–30 feet high (approximately 10–15 years old). During the winter to early spring, cut down every other aspen in planted rows to stimulate the suckering. This method will stimulate rapid sucker growth while retaining some larger plants that will help protect the new plants from extreme sun and wind.
Planting conifers will provide grouse with winter cover. Dense conifer cover reduces wind speeds and thermal radiation loss. These characteristics make dense conifer cover an important component of winter grouse habitat.
Optimal conifer cover is created by planting trees in either clumps or bands of five or more rows. Planting conifers such as white pine (Pinus strobus), Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana), or white spruce (Picea glauca) in 1-acre clumps creates winter cover for ruffed grouse. Across the landscape, there should be about 1–5 acres of these clumps within each 40-acre unit. Clumps of younger pines are more beneficial than larger pines. Young pines provide cover for nesting birds, ruffed grouse, and rabbits. As the pines mature, self-prune, and shade out understory plants, the structure of the stand becomes more homogenous and the wildlife value declines.
Conifers can be planted on a 6 x 6 foot spacing in clumps or in a band that is 60 feet wide. Planting the trees close together encourages lower branches to intertwine, which can serve as a shield against the wind. Coniferous species to plant for ruffed grouse habitat include white spruce, Norway spruce (Picea abies), and white pine. Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is an excellent roost tree but will likely grow only in the very southern portions of Pennsylvania. Grouse avoid roosting in hollows or other depressions where cold air settles and will move to higher elevations to roost. For this reason conifers should be planted at higher elevations or on the uphill side of the reclaimed area. Please refer to Conifers for Wildlife in this field guide for more information.
Edge Effects and Ruffed Grouse
Edge habitats occur where two different habitat types come together. Examples include a field-forest edge, clearcut edge, or pipeline edge. Natural gas development in Pennsylvania’s forests will result in the creation of many miles of edge in the form of new pipelines, roads, and well pads.
Edge habitats can be both positive and negative for ruffed grouse. At a local scale, edge habitats in the form of logging roads, pipelines, and small forest openings are beneficial for grouse broods because herbaceous cover and sapling density are typically highest in edge habitats. At the landscape level, there is a negative relationship between the density of roads and brood survival. Predation of grouse, turkeys, and other ground-nesting birds will likely increase as new roads, well pads, and rights-of-way are created in Pennsylvania’s forests, opening more travel corridors for predators. This pattern occurs because predation is higher in forests that are heavily bisected by linear edge habitats. Predators can easily travel along linear corridors such as pipelines and roads, efficiently covering more ground and exploiting new areas. The amount of brooding habitat may increase as new edges are created throughout Pennsylvania’s woods, but so might the level of predation upon broods.
Grouse do incorporate a lot of habitat edge into their home range. Grouse home range size can decrease in landscapes with high interspersion of habitats and extensive amounts of high-contrast edge. Small home ranges benefit birds because they allow birds to obtain resources with less movement and less exposure to predators.
Edges are often good locations for brooding habitat. Broods in Pennsylvania select areas closer to the edge of forest openings, suggesting that forest openings and habitat edges were important components in the landscape. Grouse may only use the edge of a forest opening and avoid the opening interior. Insect and spider abundance is inversely related to distance from edge (i.e., more bugs closer to the edge), which means decreased travel and foraging time for broods along edges. Less travel reduces the overall exposure of the brood to predators.
As new roads and pipelines are created throughout forests in the Marcellus region, the more suitable the habitat becomes for predators. Predation is a major cause of chick mortality, especially within the first 5 weeks posthatch. A Pennsylvania study found that grouse survival decreases as the number of roads in the landscape increases. Grouse with home ranges in which roads accounted for more than 4–5% of the area within the home range were associated with the lowest daily survival rates. This proportion of road may represent a threshold value above which the benefit of increased insect and spider availability along edges is offset by higher predator abundance. This threshold amount includes paved and unpaved roads and logging roads. To reduce predator access to grouse habitat, roads and rights-of-way combined should not account for more than 5% of the landscape. Predation at the landscape scale may be reduced by clustering development, e.g., installing pipelines adjacent to existing roadways or powerline rights-of-way.
Negative edge effects can be limited by reducing the amount of “hard edge” in the landscape. Hard edge is where there is an abrupt transition between habitat types. A pipeline cutting through a mature forest and an unreclaimed well pad are both examples of hard edges. These can be reduced by limiting the overall disturbance and by creating “soft edges,” or gradual transitions between habitat types. An example of creating a soft edge is planting small trees and shrubs around the perimeter of herbaceous openings to create a sloping transition between forest and field. On pipelines, fingers of shrubs can extend from the forest edge into the right-of-way. These fingers can provide escape cover for ruffed grouse broods and hinder predator movements along the right-of-way. Allegheny blackberry is an excellent species to plant on pipelines to provide food and cover. Blackberry can grow very densely and provides escape cover while restricting predator movement along rights-of-way. Blackberry also provides soft mast that is an important summer food source for grouse, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, black bears, and multiple other species. Blackberry has a shallow root system and should not create any hazards to the underground pipeline. Blackberry can either be planted on rights-of-way or allowed to colonize the area naturally. Blackberries will colonize disturbed areas and will likely become established on rights-of-way if mowing does not occur too frequently. Maintain rights-of-way only every 3-4 years to allow blackberry to become established.
Ruffed Grouse Management and Other Wildlife
Although the recommendations made in this paper target ruffed grouse, carrying out these practices in Pennsylvania will benefit multiple wildlife species. Brooding habitat created for ruffed grouse may also be used by wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and several different species of songbirds. Planting mast-producing trees and shrubs will benefit white-tailed deer, black bear, wild turkey, and several different species of songbirds and small mammals. Planting conifers provides food and cover for pine siskins (Carduelis pinus) and golden-crowned kinglets (Regulus satrapa) and cover for many species, including white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, Appalachian cottontails (Sylvilagus obscurus) and prairie warblers (Dendroica discolor). Planting aspen provides food for white-tailed deer, eastern cottontails, snowshoe hares, beavers, ruffed grouse, and many other species of wildlife.
Natural gas exploration and extraction and ruffed grouse management can be compatible if carefully planned. A simple guideline for managing ruffed grouse or other wildlife during gas development is as follows:
- Before any disturbance begins, locate critical habitat components for ruffed grouse or other wildlife species.
- Identify the local limiting resources and protect those resources from disturbance.
- As quickly as possible, reclaim as much disturbed land as possible. The local limiting resource can be provided through reclamation by creating the lacking habitat components.
- Reduce edge effects by limiting the amount of hard edge in the landscape.
- Cluster development to limit landscape-scale edge effects.
Protecting and Enhancing Ruffed Grouse Habitat During Gas Development – Points to Remember
- Locate disturbances away from existing stands of aspen, moist areas with abundant herbaceous cover, abandoned or fallow fields, and mast-producing trees and shrubs.
- Create small herbaceous openings, which grouse will use for foraging and brooding habitat.
- Do not plant perennial, cool-season grasses. Instead, plant annual grains such as wheat and legumes such as clovers.
- Occasional mowing of openings is acceptable as long as mowing does not occur between April 15 and August 1.
- Plant hard and soft mast-producing trees and shrubs on restored well pads. Species to plant include oaks, cherries, dogwoods, hawthorns, and blackberry.
- Create roosting cover by planting clumps or bands of white spruce, Norway spruce, or white pine.
- Limit the amount of hard edge in the landscape by planting small trees and shrubs along the edge of forest clearings.
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