ONEIDA COUNTY - If you ask grouse hunters their favorite part about the sport, bagging a bird rarely makes the top of their list.
"The only reason that I stay fit is so for a month in the fall I can walk behind my bird dogs," said Ruffed Grouse Society Regional Director Dave Johnson.
"For me it's never about what you put in the bag. It's all about getting out there and working the dogs and being out here," said Wisconsin River Chapter Jon Long.
But long before their favorite season starts, members of the Ruffed Grouse Society have to do some groundwork.
"We had one chapter farther north; we planted 4,000 trees on a Saturday," said Johnson.
The Wisconsin River Chapter--which is based in the Minocqua, Rhinelander, and Tomahawk area--decided to take its conservation efforts one step further.
It adopted the Woodboro Lakes Wildlife Area earlier this year. The 5,000-acre property near Rhinelander is a young-growth forest, which makes for great grouse habitat.
"Now we've got a home area that we can really focus on. Work hand in hand with the DNR to clear trails, open up some areas that otherwise were really dense and be able to provide some better habitat for grouse and woodcocks as well as a lot of other species," said Long.
The Wisconsin DNR manages more than 500,000 acres of land dedicated to wildlife management.
The DNR started the "adopt a wildlife area" program to get volunteers to help.
"Truly hunters and anglers are the very beginning, the roots of conservation," said DNR Wildlife Management Director Eric Lobner.
Lobner hopes more groups will take after the Wisconsin River Chapter.
He says the state's wildlife management program is funded almost exclusively by hunters and fishermen, but its impact goes beyond the sports.
"Tourists come to the state to see the wildlife, to see the beauty of the forest, to see the birds in the air.
"When you think about that, the money that the hunters and anglers contribute is really permeating into our society and just has a tremendous effect on all aspects around us," said Lobner.
That mindset matches well with the Ruffed Grouse Society's, creating a partnership the benefits anyone who enjoys the outdoors.
"We want to look at the big picture and see what we're doing and how it benefits everything," Lobner said. Selfishly, it also benefits ruffed grouse."
Banquets are the Ruffed Grouse Society's biggest fundraisers for projects like this one. The Wisconsin River Chapter will be holding its banquet January 27 at the Inshalla Country Club in Tomahawk.
The Wisconsin River Chapter was the first group to adopt a wildlife area through the DNR's program.
Any person or group can adopt a wildlife area. For more information, follow the link below.