GRAND RAPIDS, MINN. -- As executive director of the 23,000-member Ruffed Grouse Society, Sam Pursglove loves birds. But please, don't mention spotted owls to him.

The furor that has developed over the owls' endangered habitat in old-growth western forests has Pursglove worried that environmentalists will try to slam the door on clear-cutting timberlands, the key to habitat for his favorite bird.

"Our battle is trying to convince the public that clear-cutting isn't inherently bad," said Pursglove, who holds a doctorate in biology from the University of Georgia. "Everything coming out today is giving the impression that cutting the woods is bad for wildlife. Where do we get that idea?

"The world is being told virgin wilderness is wildlife, but we know that habitat diversity is the key -- old growth, new growth and everything in between."

While old-growth forests harbor owls, squirrels, woodpeckers and other big woods species, Pursglove said nature historically also has accommodated species needing young growth, like grouse, woodcock, deer, wild turkeys, rabbits, bears and many songbirds.

"Before man came along, new-growth habitat was created by wildfires," Pursglove said. "Man considers wildfires bad and puts them out now, but logging replaces wildfire to create new-growth habitat."

Pursglove said the combination of the spotted owl controversy and global concern about disappearing rain forests in South America is pushing U.S. environmental groups onto an anticutting bandwagon.

"People drive by a clear-cut and say, 'That's ugly,' " Pursglove said. "What they don't know is that five years later, it's teeming with insects, early successional forest growth and wildlife."

The society's strategy is to divide big tracts into small sections, then get owners to selectively clear-cut patches on a rotating basis. That way, Pursglove said, habitat always is available to all wildlife groups.

The society in many instances finances costs of building additional roads into timberland so selective clear-cutting can go forward. As a happy side benefit, ruffed grouse seem to love to ramble around the edges of those roads.

Pursglove hopes his views on the need for forest diversity survive these times of enviro-consciousness.

"We're losing 4,000 acres of habitat a day to development in the U.S.," he said. "With that declining base, it becomes more and more important to manage what's left."