G-PAST is good for the future

These are the drag days for many sportsmen. Some do take advantage of the after Christmas extended hunting seasons but most don’t. Mainly because of the weather and for others it is the lack of days to use for hunting. Nevertheless, there is plenty to think about.

It was hard times for the Steelers this season so we all wonder if Ben Roethlisberger will actually be back next season, or will it be Mason Rudolph or Duck Hodges. Also the Pittsburgh Pirates this spring will be a completely different team (we hope for the better) but we speculate and argue over who will be the new coaches, how will the new manager handle the team, and how many of those we had grown loyal to last season will even be there when the season opens.

And for deer hunters, it is still the ongoing arguments of how the terrible CWD problem should be handled. Early last year the plan was proposed to cull the deer herd with sharpshooters since a reduction in population was the plan to restrict the advance of CWD locally.

True to their patterns, the sportsmen rebelled at the very thought of such a plan and protested. So the Game commission thought of another way to accomplish the same goal: give hunters many more days and licenses to hunt those areas and hope this would cull the herd. Don’t know yet if it worked. Ultimately, this is the way to stop the spread of this terrible affliction and barring a miracle discovery, it will be accomplished.

If the weather is not too severe, turkeys should survive easily. But there were concerns last fall season and the spring season before that about West Nile virus perhaps affecting their populations. I saw many fewer turkeys last fall in my usual haunts and that worries me a lot.

Last fall I wrote in a column that every species we were hunting that fall and this winter had something that was afflicting it. The Ruffed Grouse, our state bird and majestic game bird was dreadfully affected by habitat reduction and the West Nile Virus.

The Ruffed Grouse Society, which holds an annual fundraising banquet each year in Altoona, has been cooperating. It helps those biologists and organizations that study this problem. They announced that they have a possible effective new weapon to use against this plague.

“The Game Commission recognizes that all conservation partners must work smarter, not just harder, to restore the King of Thunder,” said Lisa Williams, the agency grouse biologist who identified West Nile’s role in Pennsylvania’s grouse-population collapse. “It’s not enough to simply create grouse habitat. For best success, habitat must be created in areas buffered from disease-carrying mosquitoes and close to existing grouse populations so birds can quickly colonize new sites.”

The Grouse Priority Area Siting Tool — G-PAST — identifies areas with landscape features that stave off mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus. When combined with information on local grouse populations, G-PAST identifies priority sites where disease risk is low and probability of grouse benefit is high.

G-PAST has the potential to be a game-changer in grouse restoration, because it focuses the attention of all conservation partners on areas where grouse can best recover.

“We know high-quality grouse habitat is the best way to offset losses from West Nile virus,” said Matthew Schnupp, Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Management director. “But if we create better grouse habitat in places with high disease risk, we may be setting grouse up to fail.

“This tool combines cutting-edge geographic-information-system analysis with our wildlife research and habitat-management information to identify where we can best help grouse. It’s an approach that puts us in the best position possible to help our state bird.”

G-PAST can be used by habitat partners to focus habitat restoration, develop grant proposals, initiate collaborations at priority sites, enlist high-priority private landowners, and guide their own local clubs and chapters on where to undertake habitat projects.

G-PAST is the key. It provides a level of guidance unknown in grouse conservation before now.”

Williams said she’s now more optimistic about the potential for meaningful grouse management than she’s been in years.

“Whether you’re a landowner with 20 acres or a land manager with 20,000 acres, G-PAST shows where you can best benefit grouse,” Williams said.

“Although the tool was developed with grouse in mind, we’re excited to incorporate G-PAST in our management efforts for other declining species” said Dan Brauning, Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Division chief.

G-PAST provides important siting information for species that occur in high elevations, species that rely on young forests, and the many other wild birds that are susceptible to West Nile virus, Brauning said.

To check out G-PAST, go to http://bit.ly/PGCG-Past. Once there, zoom into your area of interest. G-PAST uses a color-coded format of Good (orange), Better (blue) and Best (purple), so it’s easy to find important restoration sites in an area.

We will no doubt hear much about this program in the future.