An Open Appeal from the recent Ruffed Grouse Society #HealthyForests film featuring Project Upland Creative Director A.J. DeRosa
Somewhere along the road of fighting to help the future of the ruffed grouse, or more accurately forest health, the message of habitat became increasingly ineffective. Maybe it never was effective. We all know science says we need grouse habitat to save the future of the ruffed grouse but at the end of the day that solution means nothing to the masses. It makes the echo chamber of us all saying “it comes down to habitat” null and void.
I submit to you that the crisis of the ruffed grouse and its future is not an issue of habitat, it is an issue of messaging, and relevance. The sooner we accept that reality and stop the insanity of saying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results the better.
Humans are curious creatures. We want to know for ourselves why something is true (or not). Simply saying the solution is “habitat” in a world of partisanship is like throwing a grain of salt in the ocean. We need mechanisms for stories that helps us find our way to the truth and perhaps more importantly, a reason to need that truth.
The first and foremost reason for this post and film is to call attention to the efforts of the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society. In the past year the organization under the new leadership of Dr. Ben Jones has made leaps and bounds in not only truly advancing the mission of forest health but in building bridges with groups and organizations we have previously found ourselves at odds with. At this moment we are finally moving forward and because of that more than ever we all need to step up and help this organization harness the power of this community.
Not to sound like JFK but here it goes anyways. The idea of what non-profits “can do for me” needs to change to what “we can do for them.” The real conversation, the one of a true conservationist is “what can we do as members for the Ruffed Grouse Society”. I believe that question will ultimately lead us to progress and success in this fight.
If you are not a member, if you do not even live in ruffed grouse country, do not even hunt birds, I appeal to you that we NEED your help. This snippet was taken from the opening letter I wrote for our Spring 2020 Issue of Project Upland Magazine as part of the #PublicGrouse theme from our recent film tour.
“Our hope is that people take from this issue the specialties of these birds as well as the sobering reality of how dark their future is. Decline is the most common trend. The places I hunted ruffed grouse 25 years ago have no grouse at all. They’ve disappeared over just a fraction of my lifetime, not a whole lifetime. The lack of forest health in our single-aged national forests has left them void of biodiversity. And dare I mention climate change, which is affecting all of them in one way or another. And ruffed grouse aren’t the only grouse species that are (forgive the language—I lack a better term) f%$#ed.”
“The sage grouse story is a political circus and is among one of the most imminent impeding environmental crises. Prairie chicken nesting is at the mercy of changing weather patterns and the population has been extirpated from many of its native ranges. Sooty grouse populations have decreased about 2 percent per year since 1966…”
“… Let the film #PublicGrouse and this issue of the magazine stand as a testimony. Fifty years from now, many of us will still be here to answer for what we do today. Our children and our children’s children will ask one simple question if we fail: ‘Why did you let it die? You said you loved the bird, the environment, the land, and the lifestyle.’ And here we stand under the judgment of future generations. Their conclusions, not our excuses, will be the only thing that matters. Let us not be the generation that allowed this to fail on our watch. Rather, let us be remembered as the generation that drew a line in the sand, faced reality with unwavering conviction, and reversed the great decline of the North American grouse for a sustainable future.”
I am sure many may read or watch a film like this and shake their heads about words like “climate change” or maybe the bold statement that “just buying a hunting license does not make you a conservationist“. Climate change is not just one of the strongest story lines in the 21st century but a legitimized policy driving fact. Denying climate change is a great way to NOT be part of the conversation going forward. It is a great way to NOT get a chance to sit down with organizations moving environmental policy. And all for what? Seriously, think long and hard about that one, what does that gamble achieve? Because quite literally if there is a sliver of possibility that you are wrong (which boy would I love to be wrong), then we as a species, environment, and planet will never be able to pay that debt. Wherever you stand on this often times polarizing issues, this is about being a part of the conversation.
I get it, a rant on how “climate change” is man-made or not, does not change the end result. But as a species that has put ourselves on the moon, harnessed nuclear energy, and much more, rolling over and calling it quits feels like the opposite of human nature. The health of our forests and wildlife must be included in any conversation that effects our future. And who better to be our voice in that conversation than the Ruffed Grouse Society?
And as I am sure some may still be caught up on my statement about hunting licenses and conservationists, I will submit to you part of a recent article in the Hunt Rising publication by Northwoods Collective.
“A conservationist is a person who advocates or acts for the protection and preservation of the environment and wildlife. Now, I am not trying to poke too hard here, but how does buying a hunting license (which is required by law) and paying excise taxes on gear translate to that person ‘advocating or acting?’ My town requires us to recycle by law, does that make me an environmentalist? I would submit that being a conservationist is much more than simply buying a hunting license and paying excise tax. And many hunters have no business weaponizing a word that they have no business claiming for themselves.”
“If a hunter desires to be a conservationist, he or she would have to actually act or advocate. Maybe join a non-profit, volunteer time, raise awareness on environmental issues that affect wildlife. Ranting about big bucks and the need for more deer when we live in a world plagued by overpopulation leading to CWD, invasive plant species expansion, and destruction of diverse habitat sounds like quite the opposite of conservation.“
We all have an obligation to the ruffed grouse and to our forests. As ruffed grouse hunters, no matter how you hunt them, we owe it the resource. As a millennial, I appeal to people in my age group and younger to rally for this fight. And to all those that came before us, the people that mentored us, the people that sparked our passion, the people that paid it forward, we THANK YOU for what you have done and continue to do. Right now we need you more than ever to stand behind us, support us, and help us push this forward.
A.J. DeRosa founded Project Upland in 2014 as an excuse to go hunting more often (and it worked). A New England native, he grew up hunting and has spent over 35 years in pursuit of big and small game species across three continents. He has a passion for side-by-side shotguns, inspiring him to travel the world to meet the people and places from which they come. Looking to turn his passion into inspiration for others, AJ was first published in 2004 and went on to write his first book The Urban Deer Complex in 2014. He soon discovered a love for filmmaking, particularly the challenge of capturing ruffed grouse with a camera, which led to the award-winning Project Upland film series. AJ's love for all things wild has caused him to advocate on the federal and state levels to promote and expand conservation policy, habitat funding, and upland game bird awareness. He currently serves as the Strafford County New Hampshire Fish & Game Commissioner in order to give back to his community and to further the mission of the agency. When those hunting excuses are in play, you can find him wandering behind his Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in the mountains of New England and anywhere else the birds take them.