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The numbers are not encouraging. Worse yet, another downturn may be on the way.

Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Lisa Williams asked hunters who harvested a grouse last fall to send her a blood samples from it for examination. The idea was to see how many birds had been exposed to West Nile virus and survived.

She recently said 26 birds, or 13 percent of those sampled, fell into that category, she said.

That doesn't sound too bad, she said, until you consider that West Nile kills in summer, and some research suggests 80 percent of grouse that contract it die. That means for every 26 survivors, more than 100 other birds were dead long before hunters ever hit the woods, she added.

There's potentially worse news.

Williams said that even with spotty surveillance, West Nile was confirmed in about 57 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties last year. Historically, she added, such outbreaks persist over several years.

That could be bad.

Williams said there seems to be a connection between the mosquito-borne illness and declines in grouse numbers. In years when West Nile is abundant, grouse numbers go down, but in years it's scarce, grouse numbers go up. The trend is “almost a perfect mirror image,” she said.

Grouse populations had been on a an upswing in recent years, she said. Increased West Nile could change that.

“That makes me quite concerned about what's going to happen with our modest recovery,” Williams said.

If there's any good news, it's that grouse populations appear able to withstand illness if there's enough good habitat spread over a wide expanse, Williams said.

“Where we have excellent habitat for grouse. They can outproduce the disease,” she said.

That offers some hope, said Bryan Burhans, deputy director of administration for the commission.

“That's got me thinking our best defense might be a good offense, making better habitat,” he said.

In the meantime, the commission may also have to scale back grouse seasons, Williams said. Hunters harvest about 35,000 to 40,000 birds annually. That has never been a big factor in overall populations, Williams said.

But with grouse struggling, she's “going to be looking very seriously” at whether seasons might have to be shortened. The post-Christmas season — though popular with hunters — “would be the logical target,” Williams said.

The commission will seek input from sportsmen before making any changes, however.

http://triblive.com/sports/outdoors/10756485-74/grouse-williams-rifle
 

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Did the PGC publish the final results? We need more info..where did they get the 80 percent from? Seems like this is all based on assumption. 26 birds had it..only 13 percent..thats really low. Wouldn't you think people would be finding these dead grouse..especially in those numbers. People had no problem finding crows and sparrows.
 

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People found dead crows and sparrows because the populations of these birds are way more than grouse, i.e. there are more of them and the likelihood of finding one is greater. Also a dead bird in the woods is a meal ticket for many species. 26 birds were found with the antibodies in their blood, indicating that they survived the virus. The survival percentage number came from the Game Commissions study of intentionally infected chicks. The survivors produced the necessary antibodies. The others quickly died, hence the mortality during the summer when the grouse are bitten by the mosquito.
Twisted - grouse do not "contaminate" other species, the virus is spread by the bite of a mosquito.
 

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Of course there are more crows and sparrows than grouse..however it's not that difficult to see grouse in areas of higher population yet I haven't heard of any dead grouse being found.

The PGC needs to consult with The West Nile Virus Control Program so they have a better understanding of the disease and how it works because the conclusions they are drawing are assumptions at best that make no sense.

You can't actually take this article seriously..The height of west nile activity peaks in late summer early fall.
 

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How in the world can you outproduce the disease with good habitat..if 80 percent of all chicks die due to infection what is habitat going to do? They have no clue why the grouse are declining and are grasping at straws. All this because of 26 grouse and they think they have found the answer.

This is a joke..I hope the full report has more details..it has to..they can't base everything off of those numbers in the article.
 

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I can see where good habitat improves grouse numbers. With 20% survival, the more birds that are produced will still effect numbers positively. Resistance to West Nile is also probably genetic so the survival percentage would increase with the population.
 

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Come on now Lynn you know better than this..80 percent mortality just due to west Nile..factor in all other mortality..chicks can succumb to a bunch of things..include the 35,000 due to hunting and you would have had a population collapse not gradually decline. 87 percent of birds were clear in the study. Also west Nile has been around since 2001..developing resistance shouldhave already taken place like it has in crows. The article makes no sense..hopefully the report includes more information because I have a ton of questions.
 

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Cspot, where is all this information and data located because it sure doesn't seem to be on the PGC's Grouse page. Heck, they don't ever seem to update that considering the last "From the Coverts" report is from 2014. I don't even see anything on the request for blood samples from successful grouse hunters.

In this article she says that grouse numbers had been on the upswing in recent years yet I don't recall that being said in the season forecast reports in recent years, so [censored]?

Until actually proven otherwise I'll continue to stick to my belief that West Nile Virus is mostly a red herring.
 

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There has to be more to the study than the article suggests...if not than it's ridiculous!I have never witnessed any kind of die off due to disease.
 

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Sounds like a way to reduce hunting opportunities. Grouse numbers started dropping as raptor numbers rose. Pheasant and quail have been wiped out, why should we think grouse will not suffer the same fate. All prey species have dropped in numbers since raptors have been protected, including songbirds. Raptors hunt 24\7 and kill many more grouse than people, but yet the first solution seems to be reduce hunting opportunities for humans. Maybe a reduction in predators would also be an idea.
 

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My part of S/W PA was loaded with grouse in the 70's and 80's, but with the decline of the crab apple trees came a decrease in Grouse. I spend a lot of time in the woods all year long in S/W PA and I see maybe 1 grouse a calendar year, never hear them drum during Spring Gobbler season and I have not seen a grouse track in the snow for years. The last grouse I saw from my archery tree stand flew past my face closely follow by a hawk. Last week in was in a long ago hot spot and I saw a hawk perched on every light pole.
 

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bpottorff said:
Sounds like a way to reduce hunting opportunities. Grouse numbers started dropping as raptor numbers rose. Pheasant and quail have been wiped out, why should we think grouse will not suffer the same fate. All prey species have dropped in numbers since raptors have been protected, including songbirds. Raptors hunt 24\7 and kill many more grouse than people, but yet the first solution seems to be reduce hunting opportunities for humans. Maybe a reduction in predators would also be an idea.
wow
I mean I know I shouldn't be surprised by now , but wow.

what does any of that have to do with west nile?
and secondly you do know that west nile infects raptors just as easily as grouse , crows, chickens or ducks
 

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Yep there is absolutely no sense in wasting any more money on doing wildlife research. The Game Commission should fire all of the biologists since they can obviously get all the RIGHT wildlife management knowledge anyone needs by simply logging into and ready the various hunter message boards.

For heavens sakes people!!!! Why don't you try to learn something from scientifically generated research??????

Dick Bodenhorn
 
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