Of the four varieties of grouse that live in Wallowa County, two are rare and not to be hunted while two others are commonly hunted during the fall grouse hunting season.
The rarest of grouse species here, says Rob Taylor, ecologist for the local Nature Conservancy office based in Enterprise, is the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse which, once plentiful in Wallowa County, was extirpated from Oregon in the 1960s, only to have the birds reintroduced to the Leap area of Wallowa County in 1991.
Taylor says the sharp-tailed is unusual for its dancing-type courtship and estimates the population currently living in Wallowa County amounts to only about 100 birds. This is the only Columbian sharp-tailed grouse population in Oregon, he says.
Another protected grouse species here is the spruce grouse, a type of grouse that lives in higher elevations in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
Enterprise High School biology teacher Mike Baird was asked to learn what he could about spruce grouse in the Wallowa Mountains about seven years ago by the Oregon Department of Fish & Game and has developed a passion for the unusual birds, a passion that has carried over to his classroom.
Having received about $30,000 in grant money from ODFW over the years to study spruce grouse, Baird not only has netted them, banded them, and equipped some with radio collars, but now is embarking on a spruce grouse DNA study with his high school students in an effort to learn how the species in the Eagle Cap is related to spruce grouse elsewhere.
Weve got a pretty nice lab at Enterprise High School, Baird says. He adds that tails and wings of illegally gotten spruce grouse often appear in ODFW grouse barrels, and then make their way to his lab. When spoken with last week, Baird thought he had 30 to 40 spruce grouse wings that had been turned in illegally and made their way to his lab at EHS.
Grouse are birds that prefer to walk on the ground rather than fly, although Baird says hes seen spruce grouse fly as far as 200 to 300 yards when they are spooked. The most hes ever seen in one group is seven birds, primarily because both the larger males and the females are very territorial.
Sometimes referred to as fools hens because they rely on stealth and camouflage, even when they are detected, Baird says he often catches spruce grouse with an oversized net or a noose extended from a long pole.
Vic Coggins, wildlife biologist for the ODFW, contends spruce grouse only can be found in Wallowa, Union, and Baker counties in Oregon, which is the southernmost range of their natural habitat which extends all the way from Nova Scotia to Alaska.
Commonly hunted throughout Wallowa County are the dusky grouse, (sometimes called the blue grouse,) and the ruffed grouse. The largest type of grouse in the county, weighing in at about three pounds, is the dusky grouse.