Ruffed Grouse Society’s Bid To Improve Private Land Habitat…

I have an unexplained fondness for big equipment, you know, bulldozers, cranes and backhoes to name a few.

So when John Paige, a member of the Michigan Ruffed Grouse Society, prepared to unload the ASV Terrex, (skid-steer on tracks) sporting a 100 horsepower engine, and a high-speed hydraulic 60 inch mulching drum with carbide teeth – well, let me tell you, I was excited to see it in action.

It was made for one thing – to eat brush and trees! To chew up anything in its path and spit it out as little bite sized bark. My job this day was to photograph and report as the ASV had her way with the woods.

The ASV is capable of taking down very large trees, but six inch trees and brush are little match for this bark-eatin’, hydraulic tube-wearing beast. And when it comes to autumn olives or willows, it’s like going through melted butter. On tracks it can go just about anywhere and chew at the speed a long-legged man can walk.

Yes sir, it has certainly vaulted to the top of my must have list, that is if I could only muster up the $86,000 to buy one.

But why create such a mechanical monster?

The Michigan Ruffed Grouse Society are the proud owners of the ASV, and John, for now anyway, is the chief caretaker of it. His mission is to show landowners what it is capable of doing to improve the habitat on their hunting land.

Its design and purpose is grouse habitat improvement. And there is a dire need for habitat improvement on private lands – the very reason the Grouse Society purchased it. As sportsmen we’re just not doing enough to improve habitat on private land. The Ruffed Grouse Society, being strong stewards of conservation and wildlife habitat improvement, think they can help, and the ASV is the missing link to accomplish it.

“Aspen habitat is essential for ruffed grouse, but there is much more to this story outdoorsmen need to realize,” John explains.

“I once heard aspen habitat is home to some 61 species of birds and animals, it’s an incredibly key component for wildlife survival, from whitetail to woodcocks, from raccoons to warblers and on and on and on,” he tells me.

John went on to explain, “Some 56% of Michigan’s aspen habitat is on private land and few are doing what must be done to ensure sound forestry management. The other 44% of Michigan’s aspen habitat is on State and Federal land.

“The State does a pretty good job with their timber program. Federal lands is somewhat of a different story, they have more red tape and hoops they must jump through to manage our mature forests, environmental studies must be made to make regeneration happen and it’s a much slower process,” John told me.

“The truth is people are scared of the term ‘clear-cuts,’ said John. “I prefer regeneration. People don’t want to see us cut our trees, but from a management standpoint it has to happen to protect our forests and our wildlife.

“Sportsmen and the general public have to understand our forests are like a farmer’s crop, the only exception is, a farmer harvests his crop once a year and a forest should be harvested every 20 to 50 years,” he explains.

“Aspen should be harvested once every 8 or 10 years,” John says. “The woodcock population in Michigan is on a steady decline – due mostly to the loss of aspen regeneration. Grouse populations are near the top of their 10 year cycle and we should be at a high level, although there is some concern of the poor nesting conditions this spring.

“The quickest answer to protect our grouse population and improve our woodcock numbers is aspen re-generation,” states John.

“With over half of Michigan’s aspen habitat on private land, we must start regeneration programs, for sportsmen, by sportsmen,” he went on to say.

Not long ago, John was telling me about a sportsman who asked him, “A few years ago I had lots of deer and grouse on my property, now they are all gone. What happened? Where did they go?”

John told him his hunting woods matured and simply put, the deer and grouse moved to an area where the food was better. Cut the old trees and make room for new trees. Simply put, the sun has to reach the forest floor, the place that provides wildlife with food, cover and shelter.

“You help the grouse with their habitat and you help the deer habitat. Help one and you help the other,” John says.

John also admits that with 56% of Michigan’s aspen habitat in private land, the Grouse Society could rent their services, (the ASV) 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and still only touch a very small portion of the areas needed for significant regeneration. He just wants sportsmen to better understand what they can do on their own and understand the need for habitat improvement.

John recommends enlisting the help of a trained forester to help with your hunting woods. And or, educate yourself to the need and benefits of a wildlife habitat improvement program. Of course the Ruffed Grouse Society is a great resource for such a project and membership to the organization will help them continue their many programs here in Michigan.

“The first step is asking yourself, what do I want to accomplish on my hunting property? And once you have that answer, deer or grouse or whatever, get a plan and stick to it,” he advises.

“Doing nothing is not a good management strategy. The answer may be doing smaller checkerboard areas of regeneration a year over time on your 40 acres. Do a little bit, more often, rather than a lot all at once,” says John.

“It’s hard to talk about wildlife habitat improvement without talking about plant succession, which is one plant community succeeded by another. This all starts with sunlight,” John states.

As for the ASV, John said with a slight chuckle, “Sometimes it’s all about the sizzle and not the steak! I got your attention, didn’t I?”

He certainly did, and due to my unexplained fondness for heavy equipment and watching it work, I learned much in the process. As the machine rambled and roared through the woods, I was struck by the thought of just how fragile our habitat really is. And hunting land, just like the farmers’ crops, needs to be harvested. I learned we must think as sportsmen, in terms of regeneration and not in the mental image we have of clear-cuts.

A quote from Dr. Michael Zagata perhaps says it best, “Our wildlife habitat is dynamic, it does not remain the same, or of the same “value” to the species that depend upon it, over time.”

If you would like to rent the ASV for habitat improvement on your property, call John Paige at 810-938-0560 or visit the Ruffed Grouse Society website at: