Effect of Prescribed Burning of Clearcuts on Ruffed Grouse Brood Habitat

We evaluated short-term effects of prescribed burning of clearcuts on potential ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) brood habitat in oak-hickory forests in western Virginia. We divided six <1-year-old clearcuts into two portions and designated one portion for prescribed burning during late fall or winter. Because of dry conditions, only four treatment areas were burned. We monitored habitat conditions on burned and unburned portions of clearcuts during the growing season preceding treatment and during the two subsequent growing seasons. Excessive coarse woody debris (CWD) can hinder movements of grouse chicks and inhibit growth of plant foods; prescribed burning reduced density of small-diameter CWD approximately 50%. Numbers of some early successional plants were greater on burned than control sites by the second growing season post-treatment, whereas some species associated with shaded sites, including red maple (Acer rubrum), declined after burning. Numbers of soft mast producing shrubs, which were initially reduced by burning, increased rapidly on burned sites by the second growing season post-treatment. Insect availability was ?38% greater on burned areas during the second growing season after treatment. These findings suggest prescribed burning can improve the value of clearcuts as grouse brood habitat.

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