PAGE 7 MAZINA’IGAN SUMMER 2017 Habitatcentraltosharp-tailedgrousesuccess Ino, Wis.—As the habitat diminished in the Moquah Barrens, so did the aagaskoog. Unlike their relations—the ruffed grouse, which thrive in deep aspen forests—sharptails are a bird of pine barrens and prairie. It’s the kind of country Great Lakes Indians historically set alight to rejuvenate the plant community, creating browse and lush habitat for all manner of species—from smallbirdstolargefour-leggedmammals.Butfiresuppressionandtreegrowth transformed the landscape into a dense woodland through the 20th Century. “In the past we had nine dancing grounds, or leks, where sharp-tailed grouse congregated during the breeding season,” said US Forest Service (USFS) Wildlife Biologist Brian Heeringa. “By 2014 we were down to one known lek with only two known dancing males.” Over the past eight years the USFS has implemented a plan to restore a large portion of the Moquah Barrens—high, rolling sand country near the GichigamiSouthShore—backtoafunctioningpinesavannahandpinebarrens ecosystem. Loggers cut vast swaths of jack and red pine, and fire specialists conducted prescribed burns, refreshing understory plants. Through a broad inter- agency effort, wildlife managers are also infusing the ecosystem with sharp-tailed grouse, known as aagaskoog in the Ojibwe language. Mating season round-up A half-dozen Red Cliff tribal natural resources staff joined Heeringa and others in northwest Minnesota this past spring to trap, tag, and box-up wild sharp- tails.Theprocess—conductedwiththeblessingofprivatelandownersandMinnesota Department of Natural Resources—included a health check with a Duluth-based veterinarian enroute to the Moquah Barrens. “It’s been a great opportunity to work with state and federal biologists to help restore a native species,” said Jeremy St. Arnold, Red Cliff assistant wildlife biologist. The project team spent several weeks in Minnesota—split between Karlstad and Baudette areas—to capture 67 grouse for the Moquah Barrens. That number is in addition to 29 birds brought over in 2016, the first year of the trap-and-transfer program. Biologists hope the Minnesota grouse help kick start population growth and provide needed genetic diversity. “We had a harder time getting females into the trap,” St. Arnold said. “The males weren’t too worried about walking into traps. They were concentrated on strutting their stuff for the females.” During the April-May breeding season, male aagaskoog congregate at active leks just before dawn. There’s a bit of fighting as birds establish dominance, and a whole lot of dancing. With their tails pointed up in the air, the males extend their wings and bend forward; the really cool part happens when their legs get going, pumping like pistons, making a low Tommy-gun sound. Standing along the edge of the lek, females ultimately select a mate and the two will fly off together. Turning them loose It took a number of trips to get all the captured birds from Minnesota to Wisconsin. The last transfer took place May 5 when Greg Kessler, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist, received 10 grouse in four wooden boxes. Kessler arranged the boxes—fitted with sliding doors—around a black rectangular blind positioned on a Moquah Barrens lek. “This is a soft release,” Kessler whispered in the late afternoon. “We want the birds to come out and take in their surroundings rather than bursting out, ran- domly flying off.” After tying off individual nylon cords to each door, Kessler extended the ends under the blind. He positioned a small speaker box—the kind predator hunt- ers used to call in coyotes—out into the middle of the lek, then went into hiding. On a hand-held remote control, he hit play. Instead of pitched yowling, the box broadcast soft cooing and other soothing sounds made by sharptails. Fifteen minutes later, he pulled the doors open one by one. A few birds took off wildly, but most of them took time to walk around and inspect the lek. Like a greeting party, local male birds began showing up, dancing and weaving around atop pounding legs. After a time, all the birds walked off in pairs and threes into the rolling hills of spare trees, low grass, and sweet fern. Biologists hope to repeat the trap-and-transfer effort one more time in 2018. By Charlie Otto Rasmussen, Editor Asharp-tailed grouse, or aagask, checks out its surroundings in the Moquah Barrens after emerging from transport box. (CO Rasmussen photo) USFS leads project with Red Cliff, WI & MN DNRs • ELK/SHARP-TAILED GROUSE • Omashkoozoog from Kentucky arrive in northern Wisconsin Travis D. Bartnick, GLIFWC Wildlife Biologist Winter, Wis.—On a cloudy March morning, a group of people dressed in warm winter clothing gathered at the Flambeau River State Forest Headquarters near Winter. The group shared a potluck breakfast as they waited for Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) staff to give them the go-ahead to be shuttled down the road to a large cleared-off portion of the forest, dominated by a 7-acre holding pen. The holding pen was designed and constructed for the arrival of 28 omashkoozoog (elk) that had been captured in Kentucky several weeks earlier, and were now on their way to northern Wisconsin as part of a long-term elk reintroduction effort. Once the group was shuttled to the elk holding pen site, Dennis White of Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) conducted a pipe ceremony, followed by a drum ceremony by Stony Larson, Bill Cadotte, and other members of the LCO Badger Singers. The welcoming ceremony was held to show respect and to welcome the elk in a good way as they finished their long journey from Kentucky to Wisconsin in two large livestock trailers. After the welcoming ceremony, the group walked down one side of the holding pen, which had black fabric attached all along the tall fencing, creating a continuous visual barrier. Those in attendance peeked through slits cut into the black fabric as the elk were unloaded from the trailers and released into the pen. The elk came bounding through the open portion of the holding pen and headed directly toward the patch of dense young aspen (see photo). The release of the elk was successful and went forward without any major issues. The elk will remain in the holding pen for an additional 10 weeks as they are closely monitored by wildlife technicians and have a chance to acclimate to their new surroundings. The translocation of the captured elk is part of an agreement between the WDNR and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, which allows the WDNR to relocate up to 150 elk over a 3–5 year period, and includes the trapping and transport of up to 50 elk per year. The intent of translocating the elk from Kentucky is to boost the elk herd and to provide additional genetic diversity in Wisconsin. One of the ways GLIFWC has been involved in the translocation efforts is through the purchase of feed for the elk during the quarantine period in Kentucky and during the time they are in the holding pen near Winter. Beyond assistance from GLIFWC and LCO, general tribal gaming contributions to the elk reintroduction program total $1,748,100 since the State of Wisconsin’s 2001-2002 fiscal year. Two of the 28 elk that were trapped in Kentucky and released into a 7-acre holding pen near Winter, Wisconsin as part of a multi-year translocation effort to boost the northern Wisconsin elk herd. (Travis Bartnick photo)