The ruffed grouse was listed as an endangered species in Indiana on December 16, 2020.
New Albany, IN – The Ruffed Grouse Society & American Woodcock Society led a coalition of conservation groups that filed an amicus brief in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, related to the Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project (Houston South Project) within Hoosier National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service faces a lawsuit that aims to shut down the project; RGS & AWS is not a party on the lawsuit, but the brief supports the Houston South Project and its objectives to restore habitat for ruffed grouse and other wildlife. The State of Indiana officially listed the ruffed grouse as a state endangered species on December 16, 2020.
“This filing is critical for supporting a keystone project located in the heart of Indiana’s remaining ruffed grouse habitat range,” said Brent Rudolph, RGS & AWS Chief Conservation and Legislative Officer. “The Houston South project is an important first step, but we have a long way to go in restoring ruffed grouse habitat. Young forest habitats on Indiana federal lands have declined 90% since 1986. Lawsuits and misunderstanding of the ecological importance of young forest habitat are the greatest barriers to the advancement of much-needed active forest management to sustain wildlife populations.”
Ruffed grouse are a forest-dwelling bird whose population has declined precipitously. Ecologists and wildlife experts have identified loss of young forest habitat as a significant contributor to population declines of grouse and other wildlife species. Young forest lands across Indiana have declined 71.8% since 1986, according to Forest Inventory and Assessment (FIA) data compiled by the U.S. Forest Service.
The 2006 Hoosier National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan) establishes a goal for 4% to 12% of the area to consist of young forest habitat. However, there are currently no forest stands of this desired age class on the proposed Houston South Project area. The amicus brief notes that diverse wildlife populations would benefit from the Houston South Project and other efforts to reach this goal.
“Through our extensive work on deer and habitat management across North America, we know that the Houston South Project would enhance ecosystem health and the habitat components critical for the region’s white-tailed deer,” said Torin Miller, the National Deer Association’s Director of Policy. “We’re happy to join the amicus brief in supporting the Houston South Project, and we’ll continue to encourage active forest management for the benefit of deer and hunters at local and national scales.”
“Active forest management is critical to creating and maintaining healthy forests and quality habitat for wildlife, and we are pleased to join the amicus brief to support Indiana’s wildlife and hunting traditions that benefit from sustainable timber management,” said Jeff Crane, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President. “The lack of active management on the Hoosier National Forest has dire consequences for young forest wildlife species, and we are optimistic that the efforts of the hunting conservation community will lead to increased levels of habitat management for the benefit of wildlife.”
“We as hunters and anglers choose to be participants in the natural world that surrounds us. We take fulfillment, recreation, and food from the landscape and in turn we have to give back,” said Sam Shoaf, Indiana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Board Member. “A landscape scale project like the Houston South project is just the type of undertaking that we should support. Houston South has a broad scope and stands to benefit everything from deer to pollinators and oaks to erosion issues. We owe it to the next generation of conservationists to restore our native ecosystems so that they can enjoy what we have and more.”
The U.S. Forest Service concluded nearly 15 months of environmental studies and analysis, public scoping, field review, and consultation with the Forest Plan and published the Decision Notice on the Houston South Project on February 14, 2020. The final proposed actions under the Houston South Project were found to be in compliance with all Executive Orders, the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National historic Preservation Act, Wilderness Act, National Forest Management Act, and all standards and guidelines established in the Forest Plan. Unless implementation is delayed under the pending lawsuit, the project may begin any time following publication of the Decision Notice, and the work is expected to take several years to complete.
The following organizations joined the amicus brief:
American Forest Resource Council
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
Federal Forest Resource Coalition
Indiana Forestry and Woodland Owners Association
Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association
Indiana Sportsmen’s Roundtable
National Deer Association
National Wild Turkey Federation
Porter County (IN) Chapter of the Izaak Walton League
Ruffed Grouse Society & American Woodcock Society
For more information on this project, please visit RuffedGrouseSociety.org/HoustonSouth.
Established in 1961, the Ruffed Grouse Society is North America’s foremost conservation organization dedicated to creating healthy forests, abundant wildlife and promoting the conservation ethic. Learn more at ruffedgrousesociety.org.
Chief Conservation and Legislative Officer
Ruffed Grouse Society & American Woodcock Society