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?