I’m not a very supernaturally inclined person.
Why sure, I recognize that Murphy’s Law is an inviolable law of nature; I’ve got enough scars to prove it. And of course I’ve learned many times over not to utter a peep on those infrequent days afield when I happen to have a string of good shooting; that lesson was reaffirmed just this past holiday season while hunting Mearn’s quail with my family in Arizona. I was silently nurturing a 2-day perfect shooting streak until my son, Patrick, made a big deal about my shooting … out loud … to the rest of the family. I missed the very next shot. Beyond such examples, I dismiss the supernatural.
There comes a time, though, to believe in omens; or at least to want to believe. Two situations close and very important to me converged last weekend.
First, 2014 was a challenging year for the NBCI – a “rebuilding” year in college football parlance. The sudden and unexpected termination early in the year of the NBCI’s primary funding source spiked urgency into an ongoing – previously methodical – process of establishing a better and stronger primary funding source from the states. By the end of 2014, the new and much-improved NBCI business model was established and operational, with the leadership and investment of the states, but not without many sleepless nights.
Second, my family’s rural property and the surrounding neighborhood in central Arkansas once supported a few persisting coveys of bobwhites. I say “persisting” because our property has only about 20 acres of upland; I manage those acres intensively for native habitats for bobwhites and grass/shrub birds. To my knowledge, none of my neighboring landowners have any decent quail habitat. There’s only so much an island of 20 acres can do to support a quail population long term. I often wondered how those coveys persisted as long as they did. The party ended a few years ago during a harsh winter with extended ice and snow. The bobwhites disappeared, and we hadn’t seen any since then. Given the presumably long distance to the next wild quail population, I concluded grimly that we may not again have quail on our property for the foreseeable future.
Fast forward to last weekend, Sunday morning, January 4, 2015: my wife, kids and I were sitting around the breakfast table, eating and enjoying the warmth of the wood stove. She had a view through the picture window out to the back yard. With unnerving speed, pitch and volume, my wife jumped up shrieking “Oh, my gosh! Nobody move! Oh, my gosh! Don’t scare them! Oh, my gosh! Quail in the back yard!”
Of course, we all jumped up instantly and ran to the window, scaring an entire covey of bobwhites, which ran across to the edge of the yard and flushed into our meadow. It was a celebratory occasion for the McKenzie family, and cause for elation. That is the power of the bobwhite.
Yes, this time I want to believe in the supernatural. That covey simply has to be an omen: 2015 is destined to be a good year for the NBCI and for bobwhite conservation!
We both smiled brightly for the first time since he left.
The weekend visit from our son, Patrick, was welcome and very pleasant; but short. We are exceedingly fortunate that we actually still like both our college-age kids; they, in turn, still seem to appreciate us. But there is a very real downside of such a mutually enjoyable relationship. His return to Knoxville on Sunday for the final weeks of the University of Tennessee’s spring semester left behind a melancholy void.
I normally can never find time to do all the things I want to do.That day, I couldn’t seem to find anything I wanted to do with all the time. Only the threat of overnight storms finally moved me off the deck swing and over to the mower in the half-finished yard.
Just as I reached the mower, I heard a sound so unexpected it didn’t even register at first:
The second call stopped me in my tracks. The third made me whip around to see if the mockingbird was playing a cruel trick. We hadn’t heard a singing bobwhite on our property in three years, since a series of nasty ice storms had hammered the local population. At the fourth call, I ran around the corner back toward the deck just as my wife, Sheryl, was hopping down from the deck. We both shouted at the same time: “A bobwhite!”
We stood for the next minute or so, just listening, enjoying and trying to pinpoint the bob’s location. Just that quickly, the mood brightened and the day felt good again.
We both smiled brightly for the first time since he left.
April 22, 2014
More than a decade ago, the bobwhite folks reached consensus that we needed an effective voice in Washington, DC to represent quail habitat needs in federal conservation policy. Too many longstanding problems and missed big opportunities for quail had been rooted in uninformed decisions made in Washington.
During 2009, NBCI and our partners were pursuing two funding opportunities simultaneously: approval as a “Keystone Initiative” of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and a Multistate Conservation Grant. Both avenues aimed to establish a DC policy position for the NBCI.
In the meantime, two different operational models for that position had been proposed.
(1) The NBTC Agriculture Policy Subcommittee (led at the time by Bill White and Chuck Kowaleski) developed a thoughtful recommendation that the NBCI create a technical liaison with the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), housed within the very FSA division that administers the Conservation Reserve Program – the Conservation and Environmental Programs Division (CEPD). At the time, the FSA Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs (DAFP) had a vibrant relationship with the wildlife community and vigorously supported the liaison concept as a way of building relationships and helping FSA improve the CRP’s effectiveness for quail.
(2) The other model for a full-time DC quail position – based largely on my personal DC experiences from 1991-1997 as a full-time agriculture conservation policy coordinator with the Wildlife Management Institute – was an all-purpose DC quail habitat representative, a professional quail expert interested in policy, who can tolerate DC long enough to become effective.
We opted to try the Ag Policy Subcommittee’s FSA Liaison model. Our 3-year MSCG proposal was funded, and in summer 2010 the NBCI was privileged to hire Bridget Collins, the one person in the U.S. at the time who was a (a) quail expert, (b) interested in policy, and (c) didn’t mind working in DC. Shortly after she started working inside CEPD, the politically appointed DAFP who had been so supportive left the agency. Two years later, Bridget was hired by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies as their new Agriculture Conservation Coordinator. For the last year of the position, the NBCI was fortunate to find and hire Kyle Brazil, a quail expert with an interest in conservation policy who was willing to move to DC to give it a try. Kyle finished the term of the grant in December 2013 and left DC to go back to southeast Texas to work for the Wildlife Habitat Federation.
Bridget and Kyle did valuable service for the NBCI in a challenging position that very few of us quail folks could handle. They earned our respect and gratitude. Both made real contributions by providing technical input on key practices and proposals. For example, Kyle created and led a national coalition supporting increased USDA use of native vegetation, and shepherded the NBTC’s proposal for center pivot corner eligibility in CP33 farther than anyone or any group had ever been able to. Some 250,000 acres (the unfilled CP33 allocation) of quail habitat opportunity is at stake in the bobwhite states that have center pivot irrigation. Every previous proposal over the last 20 years for pivot corner eligibility in a continuous CRP practice had been immediately and firmly rebuffed by FSA. But right up until he left, Kyle had been able to negotiate the concept to the verge of internal acceptance by FSA. The matter remains on the verge, unfinished, but without our NBCI person in DC tending to it.
Fortunately, a majority of the bobwhite states are stepping up right now to provide increased, stable funding for the NBCI for the next 3 years. This vote of confidence from the states makes it more likely that we will be able to refill the DC position sooner than later.
Meanwhile, this pause allows reflection. The concept of a key federal agency liaison offers intriguing possibilities, but also comes with myriad limitations and sensitivities. We knew from the beginning that this experiment could turn out to be a brilliant stroke of genius or a colossal failure. It ended up somewhere in between, for a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is it did not meet our needs. On the bright side, the bobwhite community now has a much better understanding of why things are the way they are with CRP, and has made some valuable connections within USDA.
The NBTC Ag Policy Subcommittee and Steering Committee currently are mulling over the lessons learned from the last three years, and deliberating on how better to set up and manage the position once we are able to refill it.
Stay tuned for updates.
February 5, 2014
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) organized and hosted a Peabody WMA Bobwhite Rally this past Saturday “… to motivate our quail enthusiasts across the state ... towards restoring northern bobwhite quail,” according to John Morgan, KDFWR Small Game Coordinator.
Huh?! Typically, sportsmen have no trouble rallying themselves to oppose or catalyze agency actions. This rally turns conservation tradition upside down: an agency trying to rally sportsmen to action!
In thinking about what messages to that audience might be helpful from me, two important points were illuminated: (1) the very need for this reversal of roles may be a clear sign of the dejected state of some of the quail conservation community, in Kentucky and certainly beyond; and (2) KDFWR is once again exceeding expectations, assertively demonstrating its commitment and leadership for restoring bobwhites, leaving no stone unturned in the agency’s quest.
I could say many good things about numerous wildlife agencies in bobwhite states. But because I was just in Kentucky to participate in this unique rally, and because KDFWR has pulled together so much of the right stuff to advance bobwhite restoration, that agency gets highlighted with this brief case study.
By my observations, this instructive and inspiring example of state agency bobwhite leadership began most pointedly in 2008 with two major developments:
Since that foundational year:
With all these right things already happening in Kentucky, why convene a sportsmen’s rally? The Department realized one crucial piece is missing: a powerful, organized support base of quail sportsmen. Until its demise early this year, QU played a major partnership and support role for KDFWR, linking sportsmen with the agency, and channeling sportsmen’s contributions to boost agency projects. The vacuum left by QU remains, leaving a gaping sportsmen’s hole at the foundation of the Department’s grand vision for quail restoration in the state. So KDFWR did what KDFWR does: the agency took the initiative by hosting a rally to solve the problem.
Four quail-related NGOs were invited to participate in the rally, and two participated: Quail Forever and the Quail and Upland Game Alliance. Those two groups enjoyed quality time and many new memberships with some 125 enthusiastic quail hunters, some of whom drove several hours for the opportunity to be rallied. More than 30 of those sportsmen arrived long before daylight to participate in a quail covey call count. The agency and the NGOs wanted the same thing from the rally: sportsmen to get excited about quail progress, and to join the quail organizations that, in turn, could lend their increasing weight to supporting the state’s aggressive quail initiatives.
It’s easy to criticize and casually dismiss the value of government. It is more difficult to recognize and appreciate circumstances when government not only lives up to but even exceeds expectations. The KDFWR is aggressively doing everything it can and should for bobwhites, in a methodical, thorough and effective manner. Now the ball is in the court of Kentucky sportsmen and the non-government organizations that enlist them, to stand tall in support of their Department’s leadership and initiative for bobwhite restoration.
If the quail sportsmen rise to the level set by KDFWR’s examples, expect much more good quail news from Kentucky in coming years.
A final editorial note: KDFWR staff believes their quail success should not be hard to replicate in numerous other states. In their view, the keys to KY’s success have been pretty basic:
October 31, 2013
REJUVENATED … in a worn-out kind of way
The 19th Annual Meeting of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC) in Roanoke, Virginia, July 23-26, led to the most pleasant and stimulating exhaustion one can get from work. Four days of burning candles at both ends; immersed in myriad bobwhite conservation issues, opportunities and barriers; renewing friendships across the country; meeting new friends and partners … it can’t get any better.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) provided superb hospitality and facilities in a splendid setting. My thanks to the many VDGIF staff who made invaluable contributions. Marc Puckett, VDGIF small game coordinator, pulled amazing double duty as the organizer of the entire meeting and as the chair of the NBTC. Consequently, he had to plan and oversee the NBTC meeting for 125 people, while planning and executing the NBTC Steering Committee’s heavy business meetings the first and last days. Cheers, Marc, and thank you!
VDGIF Executive Director Bob Duncan participated two days, with a few of his agency’s board members – including Jimmy Hazel, the newest member of the Bobwhite Foundation’s Development Board – who are as passionate about quail as any of us professionals, and who fervently support their agency’s Quail Action Plan. Duncan provided inspiring comments and a potent show of political support for quail conservation that any state agency quail biologist would envy.
Other highlights of the week:
Now we are back, tackling the long to-do lists of bobwhite conservation issues, barriers and opportunities highlighted by our brainstorming in Roanoke. Next year, in Iowa, we do it again, from a position a few steps ahead of where we were in Roanoke, thanks to the work done there, and subsequently, by the NBTC membership, its subcommittees, and by the NBCI staff.
-August 1, 2013