HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With favorable late spring/early summer weather conditions across much of the state, Pennsylvania Game Commission biologists expect ruffed grouse hunting to be average to slightly above average – where good habitat exists - for the more than 100,000 hunters who annually pursue these challenging game birds.
The opening day of the state's three-part grouse season is Saturday, Oct. 16, and runs through Nov. 27. The season reopens Dec. 13 to 23, and then again from Dec. 27 to Jan. 22. Participating hunters must have a valid Pennsylvania hunting license and follow the regulations that govern this rugged sport of brush-busting and mountain-scampering.
"Landscape-level trends in early successional habitat over the last several decades have been bad news for grouse, woodcock, and other young forest species throughout most of the northeastern United States, and Pennsylvania has been no exception," said Ian Gregg, Game Commission Game Bird Section supervisor. "Christmas Bird Count and 2nd Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas data suggest that overall grouse populations have declined 30 to 50 percent since the early 1980s, which is no surprise given that over that same period, even though our total forested acreage was pretty stable, the percentage in seedling/sapling cover declined from about 20 percent to 12 percent. Simply put, our forests are getting older, and that's a negative for grouse.
"The good news is that in our remaining young forest habitat where grouse hunters concentrate their efforts, Pennsylvania's state bird is holding its own. In the 2009-10 hunting season, our statewide flushing rate was 1.4 per hour, essentially right at the 44-year average of 1.41. Following a dip from 2002-05, grouse numbers have bounced back more recently with three of the last four years - including last year - being right about at the long-term average."
Gregg noted that Pennsylvania consistently maintains the highest flush rates among central and southern Appalachian states, which includes Kentucky, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia.
"We conduct a summer sighting survey in which Game Commission foresters and surveyors record broods and total numbers of grouse seen while working in the woods during the months of June, July and August," Gregg said. "Sightings during the summer of 2010 were up about 25 percent from last year.
"Trends in the fall flush rate follow those in the summer survey about 80 percent of the time, so I'm forecasting an average to slightly above average grouse season in 2010-11."
Flushing rate information and other grouse data is reported by participants of the Game Commission's "Grouse Cooperator Survey," which uses information recorded in hunting logs by volunteers. Hunters interested in participating in the Game Commission's annual Grouse Cooperator Survey are asked to write to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Management, Attn: Grouse Cooperator Survey, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797.
"We are working toward providing a web-based option for hunters to sign up for the survey and enter data, but until that is finalized, new participants still need to contact the Bureau of Wildlife Management to be added to the cooperator list," Gregg said. The agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) currently offers links to the annual newsletter provided to all survey participants, and blank data forms that existing cooperators can print out for use in replacing lost forms or reporting additional data. To access these items, put your cursor over "Hunt/Trap" in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, click on "Hunting" in the drop-down menu listing, then choose "Ruffed Grouse" in the "Small Game" section.
According to the agency's Game Take Survey, an estimated 104,200 hunters took 76,000 grouse during the 2009-10 seasons, during 521,700 hunting days. Numbers of hunters pursuing grouse in Pennsylvania increased two percent compared to 2008, but still remain well below peak numbers of the mid-1980s when Pennsylvania had more than 400,000 grouse hunters.
Gregg added that an early spring and relatively dry weather across most of the state during peak hatch and early brood-rearing were probably beneficial to survival of young birds in 2010.
"However, the statewide trends do not apply equally throughout Pennsylvania," Gregg emphasized. He said that Pennsylvania regions can be grouped into three categories, as far as grouse hunting prospects:
- Northwest and Northcentral: good to excellent. These regions are consistently the top two in the state and have maintained grouse flush rates at or above their long-term averages in recent years. The rate of timber harvest over the next few decades in this part of Pennsylvania may put enough land into good grouse cover that the "good old days" are just ahead. The six contiguous counties of Warren, Forest, McKean, Potter, Elk, and Cameron had the highest flush rates in the state and offer a lot of acreage in public and open-access private lands for hunters looking for new coverts.
- Southwest, Southcentral and Northeast: fair. These regions maintain intermediate flush rates and habitat conditions with somewhat less extensive overall forest cover and lower rates of active forest management. From 2008-09 to 2009-10, flush rates increased slightly in the Northeast, but declined in the Southwest and Southcentral regions. In recent years, the Southcentral seems to have under-produced the most, relative to hunter expectations. Still, some hunters in each of these three regions experience good success in localized hotspots.
- Southeast: fair in areas north of the Blue Mountain and poor south of it. Good habitat in southeastern Pennsylvania was already scarce and this region has lost early successional habitat at a rate even more rapid than the rest of the state over the past few decades. Consequently, grouse hunting opportunities in the agricultural and urban-dominated landscapes south of the Blue Mountain are extremely limited. Some pockets of decent habitat exist in Schuylkill and northern Dauphin counties.
Over the past 40 years, Pennsylvania has lost half of its early successional forest habitat, which is important to grouse and many other species of birds dependent on this declining habitat type. The Game Commission, along with other agencies and conservation partners, is attempting to reverse this decline through aggressive habitat management. The agency is drafting a Ruffed Grouse Management Plan, which will be made available for public comment when completed. The plan will provide strategies and habitat goals for increasing grouse habitat in the state.
Grouse hunters are reminded to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing on the head, chest and back combined at all times; limit hunting parties to no more than six individuals; and plug shotguns to three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined).
SQUIRRELS ABOUND IN PENNSYLVANIA'S FORESTS AND WOODLOTS
If there's one game animal that could use some additional attention in Pennsylvania, it's squirrels. Pennsylvania Game Commission field officers report squirrel populations are strong in most areas of the state.
Gray squirrels continue to be found across Pennsylvania in sizeable numbers, and the black-phase gray squirrel isn't hard to find north of Interstate-80 and east of the Ohio line all the way into the state's northcentral counties. Fox squirrels also are becoming increasingly available as they continue to push east of the Allegheny Front and north through Pennsylvania's ridges and valleys. Fox squirrels can be found as far east as the Susquehanna River.
Squirrel populations have been enjoying the benefits of declining hunting pressure and the maturation of habitat in the state for some time. These factors have spurred fox squirrel range expansion and recovery. Game Commission field officers believe squirrel hunting will be good to excellent in many of the state's forests and woodlots.
For county-specific details on game populations, habitat conditions and where-to-go hunting information, visit the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Reports filed by Wildlife Conservation Officers, Land Managers and foresters are available from every county. To access them, just click on the "Field Officer Game Forecasts" link found on the homepage.
"Gray squirrels are our most abundant game species and are found throughout Pennsylvania," said Tom Hardisky, Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist. "Look for mast-producing trees such as walnut, butternut, oak and hickory when searching for the best hunting areas. In agricultural areas, woodlots in the vicinity of standing cornfields often support large numbers of squirrels. They can be found throughout deep woods areas. The black squirrel is actually a color phase of the gray squirrel. In general, black squirrels can be found in the northern half of Pennsylvania. Squirrels with this black color variation often occur in local concentrations scattered about their northern Pennsylvania range.
"Fox squirrels are up to 50 percent larger than gray squirrels and weigh about two pounds," Hardisky explained. "Fox squirrels have been expanding their range eastward in recent years and now inhabit much of the western half of Pennsylvania. They prefer more open areas than gray squirrels and are not found in the deep woods. Fox squirrels favor open fields and pastures with large trees nearby. Small woodlots and forest edges are typical fox squirrel haunts. Although some gray squirrels may possess orange coloration along their sides and tails, fox and gray squirrels do not interbreed, nor do gray and red squirrels. Each squirrel species has some color variation, even within local populations. However, this color variation largely results from genetic differences. Local diet, habitat, and climate differences also may contribute to color variation."
When hunting squirrels, look for large-trunked trees near a food source. Larger trees offer better protection from predators and are favorite den sites. Gray squirrels are most active during the early morning and evening, while fox squirrels often travel during mid-day.
Squirrel season opens on Oct. 16 and runs through Nov. 27. The season reopens on Dec. 13-23, and Dec. 27-Feb. 5. The daily limit is six.
Pennsylvania's youth squirrel hunt will be held Oct. 9-15, and is open to youths 12 to 16 years of age who have successfully completed a hunter-trapper education course and are properly accompanied by an adult. A hunting license is not required to participate.
Hunters also are reminded that squirrels are listed as a game animal that can be pursued by youngsters participating in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program, which permits those under the age of 12 to hunt under the guidance of a mentor. For more information about this new program, visit the Game Commission's website and click on Mentored Youth FAQs in the "Quick Clicks" box in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage.
Information on both of these youth hunting programs also can be found on page 15 of the 2010-11 Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations, which is provided to each license buyer.
Squirrel hunters are required to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing, visible 360 degrees, at all times.
GAME COMMISSION POSTS FIELD FORECASTS ON WEBSITE
Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officers (WCOs), Land Management Group Supervisors (LMGSs) and foresters spend a considerable amount of time gathering information about wildlife population trends in their districts. With the hunting and trapping seasons just around the corner, the Game Commission, once again, is sharing that information – through its website – with those who enjoy Penn's Woods.
To view these game forecasts offered by field officers, go to the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) and click on the "Field Officer Forecasts" photo link in the middle of the homepage, then select the region of interest in the map, and choose the WCO district of interest from the map. For LMGS or forester reports, select the link to the LMGS Group or forester link of interest within that region.
"Our field officers and foresters provide wildlife forecasts for small game, furbearers, wild turkey, bear and deer within their respective districts," said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. "These forecasts are based on sightings field officers have had in the months leading up to the 2010-11 seasons, and some offer comparisons to previous wildlife forecasts. Some WCOs and LMGSs include anecdotal information, as well as hunting and trapping leads in their districts.
"The Game Commission offers this information to hunters and trappers to help them in making plans for the upcoming seasons. Many WCO, LMGS and forester reports offer information on where to hunt or trap within their districts, as well as guidance on where to get more information, particularly for trapping certain furbearers, such as beaver and coyotes."
Roe noted the Game Commission divides the state's 67 counties into six regions, and then each region is divided into WCO districts comprised of about 300 square miles each. There are 136 WCO districts statewide. Each of the 29 LMGS groups is comprised of a number of counties or portions of counties within each region, and seeks to equally distribute the amount of State Game Lands and public access lands within the region. The number of foresters ranges per region, from four to nine.
Note to Editors: If you would like to receive Game Commission news releases via e-mail, please send a note with your name, address, telephone number and the name of the organization you represent to: PGCNews@state.pa.us.
NOTE: For photos to accompany the first two articles above, please visit the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), click on "Resources" and choose "Photo Library."
SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission