DSC, Quail VII, PF/Quail Classic

All Reminders ‘The Fire is Not Out’


 Mike Black

Forestry Coordinator

 National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative

Those of us who have the privilege to work on a daily basis to maintain and restore Bobwhite quail habitat live a daily dilemma.

While working each day to raise the bar and make subtle but effective changes across the landscape, we have to listen to our friends, family and even other natural resource professionals who cannot understand why we work so hard to bring back what is, at least in their minds, a lost species.  Not only is it difficult to explain what we do, but we have to absorb the comments like “Why not look for Bigfoot – you would have better odds”.

The quail community is really pretty darn small, and we call and email one another routinely to give one another a pep talk and bring us back on course.  That is the nature of the job.  But the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to participate in some events that are well beyond and outside our routine meetings discussing policy, budgets and other activities promoting habitat on a landscape scale.

In the last few weeks I have had the chance to interact with not only the top quail biologists in the field, but even more importantly literally hundreds of quail hunters and landowners – and many who are both.We had a chance to staff a booth at the Dallas Safari Club Convention through the invite of the Texas Quail Coalition, and both attend and host the Quail VII national symposium in Tucson, Arizona focusing on both bobwhite and western quail species. Finally, NBCI had a booth for three days at the 2012 Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic in Kansas City.

Over the course of these three meetings I have had a chance to both sit in and learn from the top quail experts in the nation (Quail VII) and also spend over 45 hours talking to quail hunters and landowners about quail management and local issues – all in two weeks.  The discussions have been dismal and disheartening at times, but I can assure you the fire is NOT out!

Tom Dailey (NBCI assistant director/science coordinator) and I had the chance to meet and talk to hundreds of quail hunters and landowners – many were both - at the recent Pheasant Fest event.   Men, women, families and friends each talked of both their passion and despair for the state of bobwhite quail all across the country. Some were after “silver bullets," ... quick, immediate solutions.But they were in the minority.The majority we talked to fully understand the long-term efforts required in maintaining, improving and creating bobwhite habitat on a landscape scale.One landowner said it all, “Without good habitat the rest of the issues don’t matter – even in the years of good weather.” 

Many of the hunters and landowners had driven hundreds of miles, used vacation time and spent money on hotels, fuel and meals to attend the event, attend seminars and receive assistance from various state agencies and the on-site landowner workshops.  That was truly impressive! All of these folks had the same story – it was not just about a bird, but a way of life that has largely disappeared. All shared memories of hunts with family, friends and neighbors. Many have come to realize that in the past both quail and quail hunting were a by product of the land – now we have to manage the land for quail.  The agricultural landscape has changed, forest management has changed and pressures from urbanization and a manicured landscape continue to grow. Idle and feral land – so good to quail – has largely disappeared, and quail are left with a fraction of their former landscape.

I could have easily left these meetings and spent the long hours driving back home discouraged and hesitant to believe that we can make a difference. However, I am keenly aware of the tremendous passion and resolve of thousands and thousands of quail hunters and landowners to not give up on this bird, the habitat, the land and a way of life full of memories. They are counting on us.

And the Fire is NOT out !!



 By Mike Black

It was a cold and windy day in Central Illinois way back in 1973.  I was 13 and out hunting pheasant and rabbits with my father and friends.  We had covered several sections of corn and a hedgerow or two and had somehow been successful with a couple of roosters and a rabbit or two by mid-afternoon.  While walking a field I noticed a patch of woods off my left that “looked good.”  I hollered at my dad and told him I would cut through there on the way back to the truck.  As I cut down from the field to the woods I remember that just the summer before I had walked through those same woods with a fishing pole headed to a secluded pond and flushed two coveys of quail.  This time I headed in with a 20-gauge Ithaca pump instead of a spinning reel and 6# line…

There was some snow on the ground as I entered the woods and I had the feeling you get as a hunter that this was a special place.  I did not understand the reason for the open and burned woods and the mix of shrubs and grasses, but something told me to step with a purpose and pay attention.

I eased through the area and about a hundred yards in I caught movement to my left.  Almost instantly a covey of quail exploded around me and headed in what seemed every direction.  In desperation I took a shot and sent a load of 7 ½ shot through thin air nowhere near a quail and worked another shell into the chamber. Two late flushing quail came up just to my right and crossed to the left as I pulled the trigger. Brush blocked my view after the shot, but with feathers blowing in the wind I was sure I made a hit!  I had indeed killed my first quail. It was a hen and I can still remember the vivid memory of that still warm bird in my hand, the cold wind, the gray skies and, yes, that special place.

Two major changes have occurred over the landscape for bobwhite quail over the last several decades.  First, forests have greatly increased in acreage and volume – we have more land in forests and higher timber volumes than at any time in recent history.  We foresters are proud of that - but the forests have matured and the canopies have closed.   Much of the extensive savannah and woodland forests of the past are gone.  They were a significant and often dominate part of the forested landscape, and as recently as 1950-1960 era photography they are still clearly visible.

Secondly, and at the same time, fire suppression became the policy on the land and gone are the frequent and sometimes landscape-scale fires.  Dense forests and an almost total exclusion of fire have dealt a heavy blow for the bobwhite.

As a forester, I understand the value of high volumes of timber as well as protection of property that good wildfire suppression provides. These amenities are important and highly valued, but increasingly other values such as diverse wildlife habitat and the restoration of forgotten species and ecosystems are also important on public and private forest lands. Natural resource professionals and, increasingly, the general public are aware of the value of prescribed fire for wildlife habitat development, restoration and maintenance.

Over the last 15 months I have had the privilege to work with outstanding co-workers, and dedicated biologists and foresters who are passionate about wildlife habitat management in general and with bobwhite quail in particular.  I have had many beliefs re-enforced, and new visions added in my meetings and field visits, and I intend to share these thoughts with you over the coming months.

There is no greater opportunity in the historic range of bobwhite quail for habitat restoration than the forested landscape.

We can make a difference.

Mike Black

Don McKenzie

NBCI Forestry Coordinator

Just in his short tenure as NBCI’s forestry coordinator, Mike has logged over 75,000 miles on behalf of NBCI making appearances in 19 of the 25 states promoting and preaching the gospel of “forest management for wildlife” among wildlife biologists and fellow foresters. As a professional forester himself, and one with a passion for wildlife, Black says the greatest opportunity for wild bobwhite recovery – 68% in fact -- is in the proper management of oak and pine savannah and woodland forests within the historic bobwhite range.

An avid hunter, angler and cook (“if it swims, runs or flies I chase it”), Black is an Illinois native with a BS in forestry and a minor in wildlife management from UT. From his graduation in 1985 until 1995 he assisted Tennessee and North Alabama landowners for Bowater as an industrial forester. Then he established his own company, Sequatchie Forest & Wildlife, specializing in Quality Deer Management programs and creating excellent wildlife habitat through effective forest management practices.

From 2004 until 2010, when he signed on to NBCI, he contracted with the Department of Defense at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma, Tennessee, focusing on restoration ecology, prescribed burning, and quality deer management. Mike has taught both hunter and bow hunter education in Tennessee for 23 years and was Tennessee Instructor of the Year in 2004.

He’s a member of the Society of American Foresters, past Chairman of the Tennessee Forestry Commission, sits on the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies’ Forestry Group, staff representative on the National Bobwhite Technical Committee Forestry sub-committee, advisory board member for the Oak Woodlands and Forest Fire Consortium, management board member with the East Gulf Coast Joint Venture,  numerous state prescribed fire councils, board member on the Longleaf Partnership Council and is director of a new national shortleaf pine organization focused on developing a national strategic restoration plan.