(December 13, 2001, Gazette)

Hunting for conservation

Meeting of representatives from the Partridge Forever Society, the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Division and MUN to discuss research with ptarmigan (partridge).Meeting of representatives from the Partridge Forever Society, the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Division and MUN to discuss research with ptarmigan (partridge). (front row, L-R) Ellen Jedrey, M.Sc. student, Biopsychology; Jim Hancock, NF Wildlife Division; Ray Anthony, president, Partridge Forever Society; Shane Mahoney, research director, Wildlife Division. (Back row, L-R) Darroch Whitaker, PhD student, Virginia Tech; Bill Montevecchi, Psychology; Bob Noseworthy, Partridge Forever Society; David Moores, registrar, Partridge Forever Society.

By Alexander Dalziel
SPARK Correspondent

Hunters seem to be caught in a bit of a paradox – they love to eat what they hunt, but they love even more to hunt what they eat. In other words, if the ptarmigan is the target of your obsession, you will want to make sure there are partridge – forever.

This is the thinking behind a recent donation of $15,000 to Memorial’s biopsychology program by Partridge Forever, a local group of avid partridge hunters. They want to ensure that their hobby does not adversely affect the partridge population so that they can continue to enjoy the excitement of the hunt into the future. The money, collected entirely from fundraising efforts, will work to that end.

The ptarmigan (lagopus lagopus), or partridge (as it is known in Newfoundland), lives on the barrens and around the bogs of our province. Popular as a delicacy in the Newfoundland culinary tradition, it is also admired for the colour of its plumage, which changes from season to season and varies between males and females.

Partridge Forever was founded in 1992 by avid partridge hunters who were noting a decrease in the number of birds. It currently has some 300 members from around the province, with a few from St. Pierre and from the United States. Ray Anthony, president of the society, explained to the Gazette that the society has a newsletter, brings in special speakers, runs contests at schools to promote knowledge of partridge, and liaises with government wildlife officials. “We try to learn as much as we can and make that information available,” he said.

In the early 1990s, the need for some sort of action was clear. “At that time there didn’t seem to be as many birds as there used to be,” said David Moores, founding president of Partridge Forever. “We are consumptive users of this resource — but we want to continue using the resource.

“On-going, continuous research is necessary on these game birds. It is the official provincial game bird, and it is right that Memorial be the spearhead,” said Mr. Moores.

Memorial’s Dr. Bill Montevecchi, a specialist in avian ecology and conservation biology, was their choice. “We had some money saved up and wanted to use it the best way possible. We thought about a number of options, including habitat protect. At the Birds 2000 conference, we were really impressed with Dr. Montevecchi’s work,” Mr. Anthony recalled.

Using the money from Partridge Forever along with funding from other sources, Dr. Montevecchi intends to develop a long-term research project on partridge as a popular game species. “Our questions will concentrate on biology and ecology,” Dr. Montevecchi said. “Key research issues relate to ptarmigan population cycling, the role of predators in the cycle, if and how ptarmigan disperse from prime areas, hunting and ATV pressures, as well as what interactions there are, if any, between willow and rock ptarmigans — the two species in the province.

“This is a lot of work but we are looking at a long-term project that will involve many students,” he continued. “Ellen Jedrey, a student from the University of New Hampshire, has begun a masters project on ptarmigan in the biopsychology program. Darroch Whitaker, who earned his M.Sc. in biopsychology here and is just finishing his PhD on ruffed grouse at Virginia Tech, has applied for an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship to help with this research.”

Dr. Montevecchi stressed that hunting may not be the threat to the ptarmigan population that some might assume.“When you look at the total mortality, hunters only kick in 10 or 15 per cent,” he asserted. “That doesn’t mean that it’s not significant. We do have to focus on it, because human interaction with the bird is the only part of the situation we may be able to control.”

Besides the fact it will provide an exciting research opportunity for him and his students, Dr. Montevecchi is enthused about the fact that Memorial has the chance to cooperate with a local not-for-profit organization. “I think they are really incredible conservationists — hunters who are real conservationists,” he said. “They want to hunt for ever. They want lots of birds and they are really willing to shoot fewer birds, to hunt less — they really want to conserve the birds. They really have that perspective.”

“Eventually we will have a memorandum of agreement between Memorial, Partridge Forever, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Division, so that everybody would have a role in guiding the research,” he said.

Hopefully then, at the end of the day, all Newfoundlanders will be able to have their partridge, and eat it too.

Students Promoting Awareness about Research Knowledge (SPARK) is an innovative research communications program launched at Memorial in 1999. The first SPARK program was started at the University of Guelph and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council helped to establish the program at Memorial. The SPARK Program continues at MUN with the support of the Faculties of Science, Medicine and the Office of the Vice-President Research and International Relations.