By Ben Robinson
We spend lots of time talking about what landowners can do to benefit quail. Reduce mowing, strip disking, prescribed fire; you’ve heard us mention them all. Quail managers are quick to preach about habitat management, and rightly so. The loss of quality habitat is a leading cause in the decline of bobwhite.
Unfortunately, we too often forget about all of our supporters that may not own land. I know lots of folks who are avid supporters of our quail restoration efforts, but they live in town. And yet we constantly wrestle with how to handle this wonderful group of bobwhite allies. It shouldn’t be hard for us to create a list of ideas for those who want to make a difference.
With help from our friends at the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) I’ve compiled a short list that I hope will inspire you to get involved with the on-going effort in Kentucky, or wherever you call home.Purchase a specialty bobwhite license plate
Join a conservation organization
By John J. MorganThe title of this blog has multiple interpretations; either of them could be considered quite accurate! A couple weeks back, we had one of our Bobwhite Battalion members (our Facebook community) ask us what Kentucky was doing for bobwhite.
At first, I was a little discouraged to be quite honest. We’ve been bustin’ our tails for the last 3-4 years developing and implementing our restoration plan. We’ve had a big success story in Shaker Village, initiated a huge research project on Peabody WMA, made an unprecedented impact in our CREP Farm Bill focus area, and have several other big projects underway. So, my first impression was “no one is paying any attention to what we’re doing!”
It didn’t take long for me to come to my senses. Fish and wildlife agencies are notorious for not telling their story or celebrating their successes. So, we started to think how was this fella supposed to KNOW what we’re doing. And believe it or not, it’s just not that easy to find! We are often so busy implementing new projects and checking back on old projects that we don’t have time to report or tell our story.
The other side of “what in the heck are you doing?” is what we have been trying to do to rectify this problem. Many of our peers are probably thinking that we have fallen off our rockers! We are wildlife biologists spending too much time Facebooking and blogging……maybe they’re right? But, one thing is for certain, the things we’ve tried for the last 50 years to restore bobwhite sure haven’t worked! We’re going to chart a different course and see what happens. We are going to try to tell the story and get people involved.
One of our primary slogans is “bobwhite restoration is about habitat maintained by people.” People will be one, if not the primary, key to success. We plan to engage and invite people to get involved. We are going to challenge ourselves to be inclusive and not exclusive. We are going to do everything possible to keep our progress, failures, and most importantly, our STORY front and center.
If you were leading a state-wide bobwhite restoration project, then how would you tell the story?? It’s obvious that we still aren’t getting the job done, but we aren’t afraid to chart a new course!
Quail hunters, managers, enthusiasts; BEWARE. An epidemic is sweeping across this great nation and our good friend the bobwhite quail is feeling the negative effects. Known by many as Recreational Mowing Syndrome or RMS, symptoms include an insatiable desire to hop on the tractor with mower in tow, and ride for hours making sure no blade of grass stays above 3 inches tall.
RMS is caused by an innate yearning for manicured landscapes. Areas with “grown-up” or “weedy” vegetation seem to trigger panic attacks in many landowners. However, symptoms do cease as soon as the back forty starts to resemble the back nine on the local golf course.
Researchers aren’t really sure how RMS is spread from one community to the next but they are certain that the syndrome is present in nearly every rural area across the Southeast. “The neighbor down the road started mowing his fields in the fall and it looked so nice that I had to start” stated an anonymous Kentucky landowner. “Now everybody in our town does it. Not really sure why, just seems like the thing to do once fall rolls around”.
Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an easy fix to this epidemic. The deep-rooted love of the bush hog has become a way of life for many landowners. Constant education about quail and their habitat needs have shown some positive results, but mindsets won’t be changed overnight.
Many landowners either don’t realize or simply don’t care how much damage they do to grassland habitats when they perform their annual or bi-annual ritual of recreational mowing. The urge to keep fields clean seems to be somewhat new. In the past, landowners didn’t have the time or money to spend on mowing. If they weren’t using a field for crops, cattle, or hay, they left it alone until it was needed. Today these idle areas are cleaned up for aesthetics and little consideration is given to the quail and other wildlife that so desperately need “weeds” to survive.
So next time the urge hits you to jump on the tractor for some recreational mowing, show some restraint. Don’t fall victim to this preventable syndrome known as RMS. Allow the “weeds” to grow. You may just get rewarded with a covey of quail on your property.
By Ben Robinson
By now I’m sure many of you are familiar with Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill (SVPH) in Harrodsburg, KY. We’re quite proud of this grassland restoration project and even more proud of the incredible response seen in the wild quail population. When we started the project in 2009 we had an estimated 6-10 wild coveys. As October rolls around we are gearing up for another round of fall covey counts and we feel confident that we’ll top the 40 covey mark!
The project continues to be successful thanks in large part to the hard work and dedication of SVPH property manager Don Pelly. Don will be the first to tell you that managing enough habitat to maintain a healthy population of wild quail is no easy task, but it is a rewarding one. Fields need regular prescribed fire and invasive species such as thistle and Johnsongrass seem to never disappear. Habitat management does require some effort, and it does require some money. If it were simple and cheap, we’d have to issue landowner nuisance tags to help prevent crop damage…
As budgets get tighter and tighter, SVPH had to figure out a method to help fund habitat management on their property. A wild quail hunt seemed to be the logical answer and in 2010, the first hunt in decades took place at SVPH. More than 500 tickets were sold at a chance to hunt this magnificent property and the lucky winners were not disappointed. In just a half day, the group flushed 10 wild coveys!
Including a generous donation from event sponsor Roundstone Native Seed, the event generated more than $15,000. All of which will be used for continued quail habitat maintenance.
Due to the overwhelming success of the first event, SVPH has once again decided to host a wild quail hunt. To find out more about the upcoming event, or to purchase your tickets, visit www.shakervillageky.org/quailhunt. Even if you don’t get drawn you can rest assured that your donation will be put to good use as SVPH continues to be a leader in private lands habitat management.
By John Morgan
I must take exception to Ben’s last blog, despite offering him the idea! More pen-raised quail? Really? Can’t wait for his next evaluation! I’d argue that nothing has done more damage towards advancing bobwhite restoration then pen-reared bobwhite. How much money, effort, and debate have been spent on trying to get a “chicken” to live and reproduce in the wild? Way too much!
The North American Model of Wildlife Management set the stage for the restoration and management of America’s wildlife resources. One of the model’s core principles established that wildlife are owned by the people and managed by government. Therefore, having private ownership of wildlife (the European model that favors the wealthy) should essentially be illegal. In many cases, that remains true today. However, some cats have been let out of the bag. Captive deer and elk have turned into big business and have grayed the line between wildlife and livestock. Even more alarming, they are the primary vector of chronic wasting disease putting wild deer and elk at great risk.
I contend that bobwhite should have never been let out of the bag either. Pen-reared bobwhites have, at a minimum, distracted well meaning hunters and landowners. Buying or raising bobwhite and releasing them are the perceived easy solution for restoring a habitat-limited species. It feels good to release quail and nurture them through feeding or other protective strategies. It provides immediate gratification which is becoming more and more important in our modern world. It also can guarantee success – well, at least for a few weeks (and a few may make a year)!
Ben noted that pen-reared bobs kept hunters interested. That’s probably true, but interested in what? In many cases, they are interested in releasing more quail! There are alternatives to keep hunters interested that have far less ramifications. Pheasants and chukars come to mind. There wasn’t a lot of interest in wild turkeys in the 70’s, but how many hunters are there now? If the game is there, then the hunters will follow.
So, what are those ramifications? First and foremost, it distracts folks from the mission. The mission is restoring habitat across broad acreages. It’s hard work that will likely take years to accomplish. Unfortunately, restoration in a meaningful way may not happen in the lifetimes of many of our current quail hunters. So, if you’re looking for immediate gratification, then you may need to look elsewhere!
Other potential impacts from pen-reared release put our remaining wild birds at risk. Consequences include introduction of disease, displacement, hybridization (pen-reared birds are genetically inferior), and although not supported with scientific evidence, increased predation. Ultimately, pen-reared bobwhites have given many hunters an easy out. “They’ll never get birds back, so I’ll just keep pitchin’ out these suckers for the dog!” Is there a hint of truth in that?
So, you’ve heard both sides on the pen-reared quail issue. Are pen-reared birds good or bad for bobwhite restoration?