Sharp-tailed Grouse Translocation Project

Volunteers band a grouse in transport.The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, in cooperation with its partners, has been working to establish a larger population of sharp-tailed grouse in the Moquah Barrens.

The Moquah Barrens Management Area is the most northern pine barrens within the Northwest Sands Corridor stretching from Bayfield County to Burnett County in northwestern Wisconsin.  Roughly one percent of the original 2.3 million acres of Wisconsin savanna and pine barrens communities remain in the state today.

Historically, sharp-tailed grouse were found in nine locations (leks or dancing grounds) of the Moquah Barrens based on annual breeding season observations by the U.S. Forest Service and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.  The Moquah Barrens is part of the species’ historic range, however in more recent years, only one dancing ground has been active with birds returning each spring.  In addition, populations of sharp-tailed grouse in areas around Moquah Barrens have also decreased considerably.  The declining populations in northwest Wisconsin have been attributed to habitat loss and genetic isolation in key areas.

Volunteer sets up one of the remote controlled traps on a lek.

To supplement the remaining grouse population, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest secured funding through the USDA Lake Superior Landscape Restoration Partnership in 2015 to translocate sharp-tailed grouse from northwestern Minnesota to northern Wisconsin.  This nationally funded partnership is a Joint Chiefs Project between the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Forest Service.  Through this partnership, NRCS provides aide to private landowners, with lands neighboring the Forest, in managing their properties for sharp-tailed grouse and other focal species in grassland and barrens habitats.  There is also strong support from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Sharp-tailed Grouse Society, Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Society, the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy.

The overall project goal was to translocate approximately 150-200 grouse from Minnesota to the Moquah Barrens over the course of the three year project.  The hope for the project is to establish a genetically diverse self-sustaining population of grouse that is connected with other populations in the Lake Superior grasslands and nearby northwest sands habitats. The project will also note habitat use and movement patterns along with assessing the survival of translocated grouse.  All translocation efforts will follow the recommendations established within the Wisconsin Sharp-tailed Grouse Management Plan, and provided by the Wisconsin Sharp-tailed Grouse Committee, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and through advisement with the Wisconsin and Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Societies and other partners.

Evidence of a grouse roosting site.The first year of the translocation effort was April 2016. A total of 29 sharp-tailed grouse (13 females and 16 males) were translocated from northwestern Minnesota to the Moquah Barrens. Prior to release, the grouse were fitted with leg bands for future tracking.

Last year, 67 sharp-tailed grouse (22 females and 45 males) were translocated to the Moquah Barrens.

The translocation effort was completed May 3, 2018, with a total of 64 grouse released at Moquah Barrens, 28 females and 36 males. 

Over the three years of the project, a total of 160 sharp-tailed grouse were brought to Moquah Barrens from Minnesota. 

The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is currently monitoring the radio-collared sharp-tailed grouse that were released to gain information on survival, potential reprodcution and movements. All of the released birds were also fitted with a custom leg bands to aid in visual monitoring of the population. 

The Forest Service, in cooperation with the partners, will continue to manage Moquah Barrens for sharp-tailed grouse and other species, ensuring there is suitable habit for them to survive and thrive. 

Learn more about the Moquah Barrens Management Plan