To help grouse, scientists are studying mosquitoes.
Concerned about ruffed grouse, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is going to study West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes in the forest.
That’s an area of mystery now.
Justin Brown, the commission’s wildlife veterinarian, said the state Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies have spent a lot of time surveying and treating for mosquitoes in urban and suburban population centers. That’s where the people are, he said.
Forests have gone largely unstudied.
“We actually know very little about this virus when it moves into wooded habitat,” Brown said.
A new study
The commission is trying to change that. This summer it will set mosquito traps on state game land 176, known as the Scotia Range, in Centre County.
The goal is to find out things like how prevalent the virus is, Brown said.
No matter the answer, the fix likely isn’t eliminating mosquitoes as is done in the suburbs, though, he said. There’s too much forest for that on a landscape level.
“There’s not much we’re going to be able to do with West Nile in the woods. We’re not going to do all-out sprays in the woods,” he said.
Commissioner Tim Layton asked what can be done for grouse then, and how soon it needs to be accomplished.
“Is this something we need to jump on right now? We don’t want to get to where we are with bobwhite quail with our ruffed grouse,” Layton said.
There is indeed a need for “quite a bit of urgency,” Brown agreed.
Grouse populations have always been cyclical. But West Nile, he said, added on top of dwindling habitat, is causing real problems.
“More often than not, disease impacts species that are already hurt by habitat loss. That’s when you see significant impacts,” he said.
That’s what’s going on with the state’s grouse.
“It’s not necessarily the bust that concerns us. It’s the lack of a boom we see after,” Brown said.
The situation with grouse if a “calls to arms,” said commission executive director Bryan Burhans. The commission is doing habitat work on game lands and working with the Department of Conservation and Natural resources to do more on state forest land, he said.
It’s a start, at least, he added.
“We’re not where we need to be, but we’re moving in that direction,” Burhans said.