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DNR’s Rusch comments on new ELS registration system, impact of predators on grouse population

From his Tower office, DNR wildlife manager Tom Rusch had some advice for deer hunters and opinions on the grouse population.First and foremost, deer hunters need to go out and buy their licenses before the pre-season rush. This is a problem every year and can easily be avoided buy picking up your deer license now.The Electronic Licensing System, known as ELS, was the DNR’s way to modernize the license process. There have been ups and downs, but this year there is a new twist: big game are also being registered through the computer system. During the moose season, several glitches popped up already. “We saw that Virginia’s numbers are up and Ely is down so I think we had hunters who went to a different place to register,” said Rusch. “We’ve got some growing pains with ELS. There’s always going to be a problem but part of this has to do with the contract for the system.”Rusch does see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially being able to access data immediately instead of calling each registration station for updates. “It’ll be sweet once we get a couple of years under our belt but right now nine of the 33 stations in my area don’t have ELS machines and now they’re saying in St. Paul that only electronic stations will be able to register deer so ones we’ve had for years could be dropped,” said Rusch.At $1,200 each, the ELS machines are spendy and Rusch said new ones are made available on a first-come, first-serve basis.Deer hunters will use the same ELS system they bought their license through to register their deer.“They’re saying it’s going to be faster but with the 17 year-old at the convenience store it may be slower until they get it down. That’s why we had them practice with bear and archery,” said Rusch.A driver’s license would be handy to have but the DNR number on each license can be used as well.Grouse numbers and predators Until the leaves go down, the grumbling continues at a steady roar from area grouse hunters. There have been those who have limited out but many others are not seeing grouse on a regular basis.“They’re not everywhere again but we’re seeing them on the wet edges. If you’re trail oriented, you’re high and dry,” said Rusch. Better grouse hunting days have come later in the season, partially because fewer hunters were around on the opener.“The leaves are coming down so you can see better and we didn’t have a lot of guys out early so those birds that would have been killed in September are still around,” said Rusch.He still says the 10-year cycle remains in place and that the numbers will start going up. Rusch did comment on the impact of predators. With fox numbers higher and other predators going unchecked due a decline in trapping, some hunters are wondering if that leads to fewer birds.“If you look back over the last 50 years there was a time where people did shoot predators and we trapped lots of predators but these animals (and birds) have adapted with predation. That’s not what’s holding them down, there’s a lot of factors. “You have to look at the whole picture. What was the amount of grouse cover you were able to hunt before? Look at how we hunt now, where we hunt and how mobile we are. With ATVs and the trail network and more hunters spending more time hunting, that has an impact.“And if predation was that big of a factor, how we can have a healthy deer population and a healthy wolf population at the same time?“Our point is that it comes down to habitat. We manage entire forests to the best of our abilities and put dollars into habitat and fine tune season management,” said Rusch.So why not shorten the season or reduce the bag limit?“The average guy is only taking one so changing the limit is not going to have an impact. We know hunter harvest is not what’s limiting those grouse and I’ll say predators are not what’s keeping them down.“But we always talk about weather and when conditions are right they’re going to come back. When you look at 50 years of data it goes up and it comes down. The other part is it’s extremely expensive to control predators. Bounties do not work even in highly accessible farm country you put a bounty on and you can’t make a difference,” said Rusch.“In the predator-prey relationship the prey does the driving, as the prey goes up, the predator goes up down.”

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