Conservationists clipped the wings of a controversial plan to introduce a non-native game bird into southwestern Colorado.
Although the state Division of
Wildlife hoped to release 40 ruffed grouse in the San Juan-Rio
Grande National Forest in April, four environmental groups and two
individuals sued the Forest Service to stop the transplant. The day
after the suit was filed, Forest Supervisor James Webb yanked
approval for the release.
Brett Gosney, of the
San Juan Citizens Alliance, said the birds might move into nearby
wilderness areas and "could have been a disaster biologically." In
the lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Denver March 27,
environmentalists said the Forest Service violated the National
Environmental Policy Act by not studying the possible impacts of
bringing in the birds, which are popular with hunters. The male
bird is known for its crescendo of wing beats called "drumming"
that occurs during the spring mating
Gosney charged that the Ruffed Grouse
Society, a 28,000-member group headquartered in Coraopolis, Pa.,
bird-dogged the state Wildlife Commission, appointed by the
governor, into approving the transplant.
affluent Eastern group of bird hunters is dictating public-land
policy in the West. That's ugly," Gosney
Mike Wynn, president of the society's
Colorado chapter, said he took umbrage at the charge: "I live in
Colorado; I don't live in Pennsylvania."
the Wildlife Commission push for bringing an exotic bird onto a
national forest? Commission chairman Arnold Salazar said, "We're
trying to create as much diversity in our wildlife as possible and
as much hunting opportunity for our constituents."
Internal documents from both the state wildlife
commission and Forest Service show that the issue has been debated
since the early 1970s, with opinions changing through the decades.
Then in 1993, the Forest Service's regional office in Denver
concluded that bringing in the birds would not adversely affect the
environment or violate agency policies, because it was a state
On the ground, however, staffers at the
San Juan National Forest questioned the project. Some argued that
spending wildlife dollars on "ruffies' while native grouse, such as
the sharptailed, declined, misused scarce funds. Bringing in the
grouse in two transplants would have cost about
Rio Grande Forest Supervisor Webb is not
a fan of the state's plan. "Bringing in ruffed grouse is kind of
silly," he said. "It's about as low on the priority list as
anything I've ever seen."
Mark Pearson, a Sierra
Club staffer in Durango, said, "It would be nice if the Forest
Service acquired the backbone to stand up to state wildlife
agencies and do what's right from an ecosystem point of view. They
could have made a case like we did."
wildlife commissioners say they still have every intention of
transplanting ruffed grouse to the national forest; their next
release date is Aug. 15.
David Hatcher writes
in Boulder, Colorado.
information about the lawsuit, contact the Colorado Division of
Wildlife, 303/297-1192, San Juan Forest Supervisor Jim Webb,
719/852-5941, or Brett Gosney of the San Juan Citizens Alliance,