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Ruffed Grouse Society Wins 2017 APEX Award for Publication Excellence



The Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society (RGS/AWS) were honored to receive a recent 2017 APEX Award for Publication Excellence in the “Magazine Series” category for the 2016 Spring, Summer and Fall Hunting Special Edition issues of the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine. The award, given in the print magazines and journals section, marks the seventh consecutive year RGS/AWS has received an APEX award.

“In many ways, the Ruffed Grouse Society is a major voice of our organization, effectively communicating our important mission of preserving sporting traditions by creating healthy forest habitat to members,” said RGS President and CEO John Eichinger. “The magazine also educates the public on the essential messages of the necessity of young forest habitat for wildlife and passing on our sporting traditions to the next generation of grouse and woodcock hunters.”

Over 1,300 participants entered the 2017 APEX Award in all categories from magazines, print media, electronic media, websites and more with the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine being one of four winning in the “Magazine Series” category out of 304 magazine entries. RGS/AWS Editor and Director of Communications Matt Soberg performs the editing and publishing duties with design and art direction by Patrick Iten of Iten Creative in Nisswa, Minnesota.

“Production of this magazine is a culmination of many efforts, thus we sincerely thank all staff, members, contributors, writers, photographers, designers, printers and others who contributed to this award and continue to provide talents to RGS/AWS publications,” stated Matt Soberg. “I dare say our staff contributes more to this member magazine that at any other conservation organization, so please know we couldn’t do it without you.”

In its 29th year, the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence is an international competition open to writers, editors, publications staff, and business and nonprofit communicators. The awards are based on excellence in graphic design, editorial content and the ability to achieve overall communications excellence.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: July 06, 2017

324 Acres on TN slopes of Hump Mountain — Now Protected!

The newly protected lands adjoin Cherokee National Forest and Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area and has been a conservation priority for decades. Photo by SAHC.


The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) purchased 324 acres in the Highlands of Roan — permanently protecting the northern slopes of Hump Mountain just 500 ft. from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT)! The property, adjoining Cherokee National Forest and Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area, has been a conservation priority for SAHC and partners at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and the US Forest Service for decades.

“Our purchasing this tract ensures that future generations of hikers will be able to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the AT on Hump Mountain,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “This property has been one of our top conservation priorities since the founding of our organization, and we are deeply proud of having worked with the landowners and our partners to acquire it.”

The AT passes across the grassy balds atop Hump Mountain, affording hikers breathtaking 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape. The newly protected property is prominent in the viewshed, reaching to 5,000 ft. elevation just below the AT.

“Our purchase removes the risk of development from a very fragile part of the view,” continued Silverstein. “The landscape here is truly dramatic because it is such a high elevation, open part of the Trail. Here, hikers emerging from more wooded portions of their journey experience sweeping views and a sense of remoteness. Because the tract is situated so close to the Trail, if it had been developed, its loss would have had a deeply negative impact. Now, that will never happen.”

The Backstory

SAHC history with the tract began in 1967 when SAHC’s founders first met with Oscar Julian, who owned Hump Mountain, to express an interest in conserving the land for posterity. Julian and his wife and two children enjoyed hiking, camping, hunting, and riding horses on the mountain. Over the years, he reportedly turned down substantial offers from developers seeking to turn the Highlands of Roan into a resort area.

“Hump Mountain is known throughout the AT for the outstanding views from its expansive grassy meadows,” said Joe DeLoach, former Trustee and dedicated AT volunteer. “The potential for development on and near Hump Mountain was a catalyst for the formation of what became SAHC in the 1960s.  Thanks to the diligence of many people, and the stewardship and generosity of the late Oscar Julian, much of Hump Mountain including the summit was protected years ago.  However, the large remaining privately-owned tract went within a stone’s throw of the crest of the Roan Highlands and the AT, clearly visible along a mile of the Trail.  This tract has been one of the top five priority tracts for SAHC since the early 1990s, and with success on other lands it has been arguably the highest priority tract in recent years.  Now visitors will be able to enjoy the high meadows of Big Ridge, the upper Shell Creek drainage, and the beautiful areas below Bradley Gap knowing that they are preserved.”

In the early 1980s, SAHC helped negotiate the US Forest Service purchase of 1,400 acres on the NC side of Hump Mountain, which is crossed by the AT. In subsequent decades, and continued periodic outreach to Oscar Julian’s children and heirs, seeking to protect the remaining land at the head of the Shell Creek valley as additional buffer for the AT.

“I oversaw the design and construction of the AT across the first, NC, tract purchased from the Julian family and have been waiting since 1983 for ‘the missing piece’ of the TN side to complete the setting of this Appalachian National Scenic Trail crown jewel,” remarked Morgan Sommerville, ATC regional director.

A Legacy, Now Protected for Posterity

“This land has been in our family for years,” said Zack Julian, one of the landowners. “It belonged to my grandfather and was passed on to my dad and our family. I have so many memories, from camping to picnics and hiking up to the AT with my parents. I will forever cherish and treasure those memories, and they are part of the reason why we are excited to pass this land to SAHC. Its serenity and beauty will remain intact because we are leaving it in good hands.”

The recently protected land contains exceptional habitat and water resources and is almost entirely surrounded by Audubon Society Important Bird Areas. Golden-winged Warbler and Alder Flycatcher have been identified near the property, and threatened, native Gray’s lily has been observed onsite. The tract contains the headwaters of Shell Creek and unnamed headwater tributaries of Doll Branch, which flow into the Doe River.

“The Appalachian National Scenic Trail offers Americans from across the country the ability to experience a piece of history while enjoying the outdoors from Georgia to Maine,” said Wendy K. Janssen, Superintendent of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. “We at the National Park Service are thrilled that the Hump Mountain tract will be preserved and protected as part of the AT landscape.  This project is a model for our Landscape Conservation Initiative with the ATC and partners such as SAHC and US Forest Service.”

The purchase was made possible by a generous gift from philanthropists Fred and Alice Stanback, a US Fish & Wildlife Service Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act grant, and a bridge loan from The Conservation Fund. SAHC intends to own the property until funds are available for it to be transferred and added to the Cherokee National Forest.

The Future

“This is an outstanding example of how federal, state and private partners can work together to achieve common goals,” said JaSal Morris, Forest Supervisor, Cherokee National Forest.  “When this proposed federal land acquisition is selected for funding it will be a great addition, not only to the Cherokee National Forest land base, but to the entire National Forest System.”

The project has been included in the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) requests for FY 2017 and FY 2018. The federal LWCF has funded a majority of the public land protection along the course of the AT in the Roan Highlands. TN Senator Lamar Alexander has been a supporter of the LWCF and its positive impact on Tennessee for decades.

“The announcement by SAHC that it has purchased and will protect 324 acres in Carter County just 500 feet from the AT is the latest example of the important role the LWCF can play in protecting Tennessee’s outdoors, like it has done for over 50 years,” said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “Efforts like these will help further preserve our state’s beautiful land and recreation areas so future generations have the same opportunities to enjoy them as we have.”

Created by Congress in 1965, LWCF was a bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. The fund expired in 2015 and was reauthorized for 3 years, until September 2018.

Home Run

“Land trusts must be strategic about the projects we pursue and this one met all of our objectives: the property is a pristine high-elevation tract joining a large conservation corridor of protected lands, and it falls within a few hundred feet of the most storied hiking trail in the world,” said Jay Leutze, SAHC president.

“The purchase improves public access and in the future will be open to many uses, such as hiking, camping, and hunting.  It’s a conservation home-run and we’re grateful to the Julian family for being such good stewards of this special place.”

Story by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: June 26, 2017

Grouse Restoration Plan Comes into Focus



A newly published plan developed by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources offers a long-range strategy to help ruffed grouse populations rebound in eastern Kentucky after years of decline.

The Ruffed Grouse and Young Forest Strategic Plan looks 10 years out and its success hinges on an array of partners working together to create the young forest habitat on which grouse and other woodland species can thrive.

“This will be an ambitious effort, aimed at turning the tide for the ruffed grouse,” Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Gregory K. Johnson said. “There is no doubt this is a challenge that can become a real opportunity. We are accepting this challenge with every intent to be successful. We will need your help – our sportsmen, our partners, our colleges and universities, and our forest products industry. Only together can we be successful restoring this magnificent game bird to our landscape.”

The strategic plan, more than two years in the making, incorporates input received from the public and other stakeholders. It is available on Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s website at fw.ky.gov.

Grouse are upland birds that spend much of their time on the ground. Prized by hunters for the challenge it presents, and renowned for its explosive take-offs when flushed, the species needs a mosaic of habitat. Hunters in Kentucky enjoyed decades of high grouse densities last century; a direct result of the timber harvest, farm abandonment and surface mine reclamation that took place in preceding years.

Much of eastern Kentucky’s forests have matured since then into more open stands that do not provide the dense protective cover or food sources grouse need to survive and reproduce. At the same time, in many forests a lack of management has favored red maples in the understory. Maples do not produce the protein-rich nuts like the acorns that mature oak trees do. The hard mast helps grouse survive winter in better condition, leading to better reproduction in spring.

“The ideal recipe for grouse is a landscape that is at least 75 percent forested, at least 5,000 to 10,000 acres, and at least 20 to 30 percent young forests. The bigger and more diverse in terms of forest stand ages and species diversity, the better,” said Zak Danks, ruffed grouse and wild turkey program coordinator with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “A large clear-cut that is 10 years old is prime for grouse, but only for another 10-15 years. They also use older forest for nesting and foraging. You need that mix of young and old forest together. Patches of cutting don’t have to be that big – 20 to 40 acres is ideal – but you need a lot of those patches clustered within an area and across the surrounding landscape.”

The strategic plan covers the next 10 years and lays the groundwork for success far beyond that timeframe.

“The department is committed to working on grouse,” Danks said. “Over the next 10 years, we need to take a targeted approach for grouse. The objectives outlined in this plan will not be easy to accomplish, but provide the only real way to get grouse back.”

A collaborative, science-guided approach to habitat management is at the heart of the new strategic plan.

It calls for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife working with federal, state and local agencies, as well as corporations and private landowners to manage forests on focus areas by creating habitat beneficial to grouse and other wildlife. Focus areas may include wildlife management areas, state forests, the Daniel Boone National forest and private lands.

A successful outcome will require a commitment to sustainable forest management. This includes commercial timber harvests and noncommercial habitat treatments designed to stimulate plant growth for grouse broods, high stem densities for year-round cover and oak regeneration for the future forests, while maintaining select mature, acorn-producing trees to help boost oak stands in the forest. Public outreach to promote the importance of young forest habitat for woodland species will be key.

“In the grouse woods, a hunter often gets only a fleeting glimpse of his flushing quarry, and shots are often taken on faith,” Danks said. “We must embrace the challenge of grouse restoration now, and on behalf of grouse, blue-winged warblers, oaks and the suite of other species that cannot lobby for their own existence.”

Article by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: June 26, 2017

Study Finds Thrushes Make Remarkable Non-Stop Flights From South America

Gray-cheeked Thrushes tagged at a stopover site in northern Colombia were later detected by Motus tracking stations (blue dots) in the United States and Canada. Graphic courtesy of Ryan Norris.


A new study finds that the number of days it takes for a bird to migrate to its breeding grounds is directly related to conditions at just a single stopover site. These crucial migration rest stops can determine how far the bird can fly non-stop and whether or not it will reach its breeding grounds in time to reproduce.

Researchers from seven institutions in Colombia, the United States, and Canada conducted the study, just published in Scientific Reports. Scientists tracked 133 Gray-cheeked Thrushes fitted with miniature radio transmitters called nano-tags as the birds travelled from a recently discovered stopover site along the Caribbean coast of Colombia to their final destinations in Canada and Alaska. The data reveal remarkable non-stop flights of up to 3,500 km (2,175 miles). Researchers also discovered that thrushes that were able to "fill up the tank" in native tropical forest at the Colombia stopover site completed their journey much faster than birds continuing on with small reserves of fuel (body fat).

"We really wanted to know how habitat loss or the use of different habitats might affect the success of migration," says the study's lead author Camila Gómez, who is completing her Ph.D. at the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia. "Showing that birds with smaller fuel reserves took up to 30 days longer to migrate to Ontario, for example, than birds leaving Colombia with large reserves, was a major breakthrough."

Taking up to a month longer to migrate means more Gray-cheeked Thrushes could could die during the journey or even miss their breeding season entirely. Finding sites where birds can quickly refuel seems to be a key to a successful long-distance migration. The remarkably long non-stop flights of the well-fed fast flyers were also a surprise.

"When we received news of a bird that flew 3,255 km from Colombia to Indiana in just 3.3 days, we thought there must be an error in the data," says co-author Nick Bayly from the Colombian NGO SELVA. "We kept thinking, why wouldn't the bird stop further south? But it seems that if birds have enough fuel and flight conditions are good, they just keep going, flying day and night."

"We used to think that landbirds used lots of stopover sites along the length of their migration route, rather than stopping at just a few key places," says co-author Ken Rosenberg from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "This study not only highlights how important the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta stopover is for Gray-cheeked Thrush migration, but also the urgent need to determine where other species are stopping to refuel so we can take those sites into consideration for conservation planning."

The Motus Wildlife Tracking System used in this study is a program of Bird Studies Canada in partnership with collaborating researchers and organizations. The system consists of more than 300 automated receiving stations that record signals from tiny radio-transmitters, making it possible to track individual birds across continents with great precision.

Article by Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: June 20, 2017

Funding Benefits Conservation, Outdoor Recreation and Economy in 50 States

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke today announced $1.1 billion in annual funding for state wildlife agencies from revenues generated by the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration acts. State-by-state listings of the final Fiscal year 2017 apportionments of Wildlife Restoration Program fund can be found here and the Sport Fish Restoration Program fund here.

The announcement was made during day one of a four-day trip across the Northeast where Secretary Zinke met with New Hampshire Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau, whose state will receive $8,146,960 through the acts. The meeting was part of a Pittman-Robertson Dingell-Johnson Grants Roundtable that focused on recreation and partnerships between New Hampshire and the Department.

“For nearly eight decades, the nation’s hunters and anglers have generated billions of dollars to protect wildlife and habitat simply by purchasing items that help them engage in the outdoor activities they enjoy,” Zinke said. “Their support has helped state wildlife agencies protect our country’s environmental legacy for future generations of hunters, fishers, recreationalists, and conservationists.”

The funds, which are distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, support critical state conservation and outdoor recreation projects. They are derived from excise taxes paid by the hunting, shooting, boating and angling industries on firearms, bows and ammunition and sport fishing tackle, some boat engines, and small engine fuel.

Allocations of the funds are authorized by Congress. To date, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has distributed more than $19 billion in apportionments for state conservation and recreation projects.

“The conservation and outdoor recreation gains made possible by this funding mechanism, which is unique to the United States, serves as the bedrock of wildlife conservation in our country,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Acting Director Jim Kurth.

The recipient state wildlife agencies have matched these funds with approximately $6 billion throughout the years, primarily through hunting and fishing license revenues.

For more information about the WSFR program visit http://wsfrprograms.fws.gov/.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: June 14, 2017

USDA Announces More than $22 Million in Conservation Innovation



The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today announced that the agency will award more than $22.6 million to drive public and private sector innovation in resource conservation.  The agency is investing in 33 projects nationwide through its competitive Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, which helps develop the tools, technologies, and strategies to support next-generation conservation efforts on working lands and develop market-based solutions to resource challenges. Public and private grantees - including non-governmental organizations, American Indian tribes, academic institutions and local government entities - will leverage the federal investment by at least matching it.

The projects announced today focus on conservation finance and pay-for-success models to stimulate conservation adoption; data analytics for natural resources; water management technologies and approaches; and historically underserved farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners. The 2017 CIG awards bring the total NRCS investment to nearly $286.7 million for 711 projects since 2004.

“The Conservation Innovation Grant program is an example of government at its best, providing seed money to help spur cutting-edge projects,” said NRCS Acting Chief Leonard Jordan.  “This year’s competition resulted in an impressive array of proposals that will ultimately benefit the people who grow our food and fiber.”

The National Audubon Society’s Conservation Ranching Program, for example, pairs private landowners with local ecologists who guide them through sustainable grazing and management practices that support healthy grasslands, vital for birds and cattle alike. Cattle owners who commit to the program can brand their beef with Audubon’s “Grazed on Bird-Friendly Land” label and sell it on a premium market for a greater return-on-investment.  Through the 2017 CIG award, Audubon will scale the program from pilot sites to fully functioning, self-sustaining ranch-to-retail markets in seven western states – bringing conservation-minded producers and consumers together in the marketplace.  

“The CIG conservation finance and pay-for-success projects reward farmers, ranchers and producers who make their livelihoods on America’s working lands sustainably, through sound science and conservation principles,” said Jordan.  “And CIG funding ensures that all producers, including new and under-represented farmers and ranchers, can benefit economically from innovative conservation tools and strategies.

Annually, about 10 percent of CIG funding is set aside to support efforts to benefit farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who historically have not had equal access to agricultural programs because of race or ethnicity; who have limited resources; who are military veterans interested in farming or ranching; or who are beginning farmers or ranchers.  Ten projects totaling $5,141,856 were selected in 2017 because they will benefit historically underserved agricultural producers and forest landowners. 

With the 2017 CIG funding, the Winston County Self Help Cooperative will educate small, limited-resource and disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in six Mississippi counties on how to obtain access to information, hands-on training exercises, mentoring and other outreach activities that will enhance their agricultural enterprises. WCSHC will provide to producers research-based information on soil health and sustainable production practices with an emphasis on economic and ecological performance.

The Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians in Washington will utilize the 2017 CIG funds to implement a new and emerging animal waste treatment system for dairy farms. The advanced distillation and nutrient separation processor converts dairy wastewater into clean, distilled reclaim water, with liquid ammonia and nutrient-rich solid material byproducts that can be used for agricultural purposes.  Both the Stillaguamish Tribe and Winston County projects highlight the great potential of science to producers and the farming industry.

Read about and download the full list of this fiscal year’s selected projects.  

CIG is funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The maximum grant is $2 million per project, and the length of time for project completion is three years. The CIG projects are designed to engage EQIP-eligible producers in on-the-ground conservation activities that speed up the transfer and adoption of innovative conservation technologies and approaches. The NRCS uses CIG to work with other public and private entities to accelerate transfer and adoption of promising technologies and approaches to address some of the nation’s most pressing natural resource concerns.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: June 14, 2017

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