Vermont Recovery Plan Announced for Endangered Spruce Grouse

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Recovery Plan Announced for Endangered Spruce Grouse

A new “Vermont Spruce Grouse Recovery Plan” was announced Wednesday by Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz. The plan to restore a self-sustaining population of the “State-Endangered” spruce grouse in Vermont is based on information collected and reviewed by state and private scientists working together over several decades.

“I want to thank our state wildlife biologists and members of Vermont’s Bird Scientific Advisory Group for producing a comprehensive and long-needed Spruce Grouse Recovery Plan for Vermont,” said Markowitz. “Our native spruce grouse are part of Vermont’s natural heritage and an indicator species for the health of the spruce-fir forest, a unique habitat that many other wildlife rely on for survival.”

Spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) inhabit the boreal forests of North America. Although considered common in Canada, Alaska and Maine, in Vermont the species is near the southern edge of its range. Historical accounts show that spruce grouse were present in northeastern Vermont during the mid-1800s. Extensive timber cutting since then resulted in removal of much of their breeding habitat and dramatic declines in their numbers.

Vermont’s current breeding spruce grouse population exists in lowland black spruce wetlands and mixed spruce-balsam fir-larch habitat in northern Essex County. Most of the area where the birds are found is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. Periodic surveys between 1991 and 2003 suggested a stable population of 150 to 300 adult spruce grouse existed in the area, but surveys conducted since then indicate there may be a decline in numbers.

“The Bird Scientific Advisory Group was pleased with the collaborative approach with which this document was created,” said Mark LaBarr, Conservation Program Manager for Audubon Vermont. “The process was thorough and inclusive and produced a document that will guide future management actions. We look forward to the day when spruce grouse can join osprey and peregrine falcon as a recovered species in Vermont.”

Biologists believe the biggest threats to the existing spruce grouse population would be widespread fire or diseases that would reduce habitat or directly affect the birds.

Full recovery of spruce grouse in Vermont will require the establishment of two additional populations, most likely on state lands in Victory and Granby (southern Essex County), and in Norton (northern Essex County).

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department began restoring spruce grouse into Victory Basin in 2008 with 24 birds captured in Maine and 15 from Quebec. In 2009 and 2010, an additional 95 birds were brought in from Maine and Quebec, bringing the total to 134 grouse stocked in Victory Basin.

Spruce grouse in Vermont may be downlisted to “Threatened” status if, on average for five years, there are at least two self-sustaining populations, each with at least 30 nesting females, and with dispersal between populations.

Removing the spruce grouse from Vermont’s “Endangered and Threatened Species List” will be recommended if, on average for five years, there are at least three self-sustaining populations, each with at least 30 nesting females, and with dispersal between populations.

The Vermont Spruce Grouse Recovery Plan is on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife website (www.vtfishandwildlife.com).