How Can I Make a Difference?

By Ben Robinson

ky_quailplate

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
  • All proceeds from the sale of this plate go directly back to the management of bobwhite in Kentucky.  Don’t live in KY?  Check with your local county clerk and see if you have a similar license plate available to you.

Join a conservation organization
  • Several organizations are in place that focus on quail and grassland restoration including Quail Unlimited, Quail Forever, the Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation, or the National Wild Turkey Federation, among others.  Show your support by joining one today.
Attend a state wildlife commission meeting
  • Voice your support for quail restoration in your state by attending an agency commission meeting.  Can’t make it to a meeting?  Give your local commission member a call or write a letter in support of quail work in your state.  Check agency websites for their contact information.
Do you hunt on private land?  Encourage those landowners to do more.
  • If you hunt on private land, or simply know someone who owns property, encourage those folks to manage some of their land for quail.  Put them in contact with a local biologist who can help them manage their property.  Encourage them to cut back on unnecessary mowing, too!
Get creative and lead by example!
  • I’ve listed a few ideas to get you started but by no means is this the only way you can help.  If you have ideas, share them with others.  Contact your state quail coordinator and let them know that you’ve thought of a way to help.  Better yet, add your ideas to the comments section below for all to see and put to use!

By John J. Morgan

shrugging-manThe 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!

By Ben Robinson

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.

What Causes RMS

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.

How is RMS Spread

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”.

Is There a Cure?

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.

Show Some Restraint

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!

ky_svhunt

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.

Surragator for Quail

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?

 

 

 

 

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John Morgan

John Morgan

Small Game Coordinator

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife

John Morgan hails from a small, rural town in northern Pennsylvania.  His introduction to upland gamebirds began as youth with feeble attempts to wingshoot the state bird, the ruffed grouse. Despite his lack of wingshooting prowess, time afield with his dad and brother fostered a passion for managing the wildlife resource.  He learned the wildlife profession at Penn State University (BS) and the University of Georgia (MS).  His relocation to the South for his Master’s continued with a 3-year stint managing 30,000-acres of Florida’s wildlife management areas.

Growing tired of the seemingly endless Florida summer, John took his exploits to Kentucky as the small game biologist. He’s remained there for 8 years and has served the last 6 years as the Department’s small game coordinator.

In April 2008, he co-authored the “Road to Restoration:  The Blueprint for Restoring Northern Bobwhite in Kentucky”.   The accelerator has been to floor ever since trying to make the plan a reality on the ground.

Although his wingshooting has only slightly improved, he still enjoys time afield in search of upland gamebirds, deer, and turkeys.  He, his wife, Bobbi, and daughter enjoy tinkering on their hobby farm managing for wildlife and trying to grow a vegetable or two.  They are looking forward to training their new German wirehaired pointer pup.

Ben Robinson

Ben

Small Game Biologist

Department of Fish an Wildlife Resources

Ben was born and raised in Mercer County Kentucky.  His passion for hunting and the outdoors began at an early age and has been somewhat of an obsession since harvesting his first squirrel at 10 years old.

His love of nature led him to Eastern Kentucky University where he was trained in wildlife management.  Following graduation, Ben worked briefly at Tall Timbers Research Station before returning to Kentucky to work for the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.  The Red Hills of South Georgia spawned two new obsessions for Ben, bobwhite management and southern belle's.

The former became a reality when Ben became Small Game Biologist for the department in 2006.  Perhaps his biggest accomplishment was landing that southern belle, his wife Jennifer.  Together they are being trained by their young bird dog, a Gordon setter named Lucy.

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