By: David Hoover, Small Game Coordinator, Missouri Department of Conservation
I loaded up my 3-year old English pointer, Ranger, along with the necessary gear to sustain us for 2 days of quail hunting in north Missouri. As I pulled up to Shane’s house, a rancher friend of mine, he greeted me with shotgun in hand and a German shorthaired pointer by his side, raring and ready to go. After a brief conversation in the driveway we loaded the dogs and hopped into his truck and headed to our first hunting spot. Along the way Shane pointed out several farms he used to hunt, even describing specific locations they had flushed coveys. I asked him why he no longer hunted those properties, knowing perfectly well what his answer would be. Shane immediately replied, “No cover.” As we continued to drive down the county road I couldn’t help but think about something a well-known quail researcher once said while trying to describe why quail populations have declined over the past 50 years. He said “Imagine driving across the state with a bird dog 50 years ago and stopping along the way at every location that looked like a good place to let the dog out and hunt. Now make that same drive today!” The point is that quail habitat used to be abundant and wide spread and today it is not; and the habitat that does exist is often in small patches and isolated from other areas of suitable habitat. Loss of habitat is the primary cause for the quail population decline over the past 50 years, and it is the one factor we can actually control. It is true that quail die from many things, including predators, weather, disease and accidents, even in areas of good habitat. What many years of research has taught us, however, is that in areas of good habitat, and enough of it, quail can thrive, and in areas that lack habitat, quail don’t. As we pulled into a cut cornfield, a long winding brushy draw lay before us. Several smaller draws entered the main draw from the surrounding uplands, all with adequate cover for quail, and maybe even an unsuspecting pheasant. Just a mere 100 yards from the truck Ranger locked up on a covey of 12 birds along the main draw. After harvesting a bird on the covey rise, we continued hunting until we came upon one of the smaller draws. We decided to take advantage of the wind, and hunt the smaller draw to the top of the ridge. On one side of the draw was the harvested corn field and on the other was a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) buffer strip planted to native grasses and forbs (wildflowers). About 40 yards up the draw, in the buffer strip, I noticed a pheasant roost and shortly after that Ranger locked up on point again. I told Shane we have a pheasant on the run, and moments later my suspicion was confirmed when a rooster pheasant flushed just out of range. As we stood at the end of the draw, in a bean field on the ridge, Shane and I discussed how good the cover was we had just hunted and how awesome it would be if more of it existed on the landscape. We proceeded to cut across the bean field to another draw and circle back to the truck. As we headed to our next location, again passing more properties holding fond quail hunting memories for my friend, we discussed how much habitat quail really need. “As much as possible and everywhere” I replied, clearly understanding there are limits in this day and age, given 21st century economics and the human demand for food and fiber. The good news is that with a little planning, providing adequate habitat for quail to survive is possible, even on today’s intensively managed landscapes. The desire to have the dogs locate another covey of quail and the opportunity to experience the exhilarating rush of one more covey flush is what keeps Shane and I, and all the other “dyed in the wool” quail hunters going from one fall to the next. For more information regarding quail habitat and hunting opportunities in Missouri visit the Department’s quail hunting page.
This article was syndicated from MOre Quail Blog Updates.
Author’s note: Some of this BLOG is derived from a very recent article published in the Journal of Wildlife Management entitled: “Economic Tradeoffs of Managing for Timber Production or Wildlife Habitat.” The article was written by Phillip Davis, Ian Munn, James Henderson (Department of Forestry, Mississippi State University) and Bronson Strickland (Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University). Interpretations of the article and opinions included in this BLOG are mine alone.
Landowner – “So, if I manage as you say, by heavily thinning my loblolly pine timber, really opening it up, letting that sunlight in, and then using prescribed fire to manage for quail, what is it going to cost me down the road in future timber profit?”
Marc – “Dang it!” I think to myself, “I almost had him.”
In reality, I feel it is my obligation to let the landowners know, whether they ask or not, that there will be economic costs associated with pine timber management that heavily favors the quail side of things. It’s a fair question…that I don’t have a great answer for.
My response usually goes something like this: “Well, I can’t tell you down to the dollar what it will cost. First, you have to remember that initially you will get more money from the thinning because you are taking out more trees. Second, timber markets vary from year to year and it’s hard to say what products will be bringing 10 or 15 years down the road when you prepare to clear-cut. Third, there are “value added” aspects to managing timber for wildlife that it is hard to put a finger on the financial benefits of, but…my guess is anywhere from 10% to 25% of the future timber income.”
And it is a crystal ball “sort of” educated guess…just to be honest. In all fairness to me, if I could accurately predict timber markets, product preferences and prices 15 years out, I’d be in the timber business…and probably retired by now. There’s an old saying when it comes to money, “If you have to ask how much something costs, you can’t afford it.” Maybe managing timber for wildlife is no different, but I’d argue it is not a zero sum game, there are a range of options and you may be a landowner who can see benefits beyond dollars…that are, as the commercial says, “Priceless”…and for everything else there is a not-named-here-for-fear-of-being-seen-as-an-endorsement credit card.
In my opinion, no forester or wildlife biologist can tell you with 100% certainty what the future costs are in timber production if you choose to manage intensively for bobwhite quail. There are simply too many variables and too much can change over the life of a timber stand. You may have it figured to the last dollar and two days before you are ready to sell a category 4 hurricane makes it all moot. My advice to you is that if it is critical to know right down to the dollar how much future timber costs are associated with quail management, stick to growing timber. But if not, here are a few things to consider.
In the article I referenced in my opening note the authors wrote: “Maximizing timber production usually yields the highest land expectation value (LEV) return when compared to maximizing wildlife habitat, but improving wildlife habitat can result in higher hunting lease revenue to supplement foregone timber revenue.”
The authors of this paper used five basic models for evaluation: 1) timber maximization, 2) deer-timber compromise, 3) deer oriented, 4) quail-timber compromise and 5) quail maximized (my interpretation in layman’s terms) with “quail maximized” being the heaviest thinning. Many variables were incorporated into their models too numerous and complex to detail here. But all management scenarios were based on common forestry and wildlife management practices.
As expected, the timber maximization model produced the highest land expectation values (LEVs), but…all scenarios, including quail management, produced positive LEVs (profits). This means that even under a quail management scenario, the timber still made money over the cost to produce it (profit over the costs incurred to plant, spray, manage through time, etc.). The authors spelled this out by saying “Thus, a non-industrial private forest owner can generate an acceptable rate of return from timber harvesting while managing their forest for wildlife habitat.”
Their examination of compensatory hunting lease rates became a bit more complex. The term “compensatory” as it is applied in this study means how much more per acre would a landowner have to charge for hunting rights to offset the lost timber income from intensive wildlife management? One interesting finding that makes sense is that on the land that is best for growing trees (land having the highest potential for pine growth that foresters call site indexes), the opportunity cost for quail management was highest, and vice versa…the poorest pine sites, had the lowest opportunity costs for quail management.
What does this mean to a landowner? If you have large acreages with varying site indexes and are willing to compromise, on the best lands for pines…you could choose to grow pines intensively, and on the poorest lands for pines you could choose to manage for quail intensively.
Regarding hunting lease rates – the authors used $44.91 per hectare (about $18.00 per acre) as the maximum reasonable compensatory lease rate. They found existing lease rates for “Sixteenth Section Lands” (public lands leased to the highest bidder for hunting to benefit Mississippi public schools) in Mississippi to range from $1.69 / acre to as high as $37.80 / acre…essentially demonstrating that it would be possible to achieve the added $18.00 per acre to offset lost timber revenues under certain scenarios. Unfortunately, under the quail management scenario, the lowest reasonable compensatory rate was $20.74 / acre – meaning they did not find a way through hunting rights leasing to offset all lost timber income.
Whew…this all makes my head spin so let’s keep it simple.
Take home messages:
1) It is your choice as a landowner whether to manage intensively to maximize timber profit, or to maximize quail habitat, or manage somewhere in between.
2) There are professional foresters and wildlife biologists that can work together to help you achieve your goals.
3) Even intensive quail oriented timber management still generates a profit.
4) Land well managed for wildlife should bring a higher hunting lease rate than land not managed well for wildlife and these increases could help offset lost timber income.
5) If you own lands that have varying site indexes – you can choose to grow pine timber where it grows best and manage for wildlife where timber doesn’t do as well.
And, I’d like to say on a personal and professional level – forests are good things. Even a loblolly pine stand that is managed to maximize timber income still provides wildlife habitat on some levels. And thinning loblolly pine stands makes sense from every angle. If you follow standard forestry recommendations and then throw some prescribed fire in after thinning – it may not be perfect for quail, but it will be an improvement for wildlife…the glass will be half full, not half empty.
So this article was not meant to criticize those who choose to maximize timber production. It was intended to show that managing timber intensively for wildlife can still generate a profit and that there may be ways to offset some of the lost timber income.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
Thomas V. Dailey, Ph.D.
NBCI Science Coordinator
A striking bobwhite phenomenon is their covey call in fall. As sure as the approach of winter, broods and adults are re-organizing into coveys, and apparently this process is facilitated by pre-dawn communication. The calls are the basis for sophisticated biological assessments such as NBCI’s Coordinated Implementation Program, and for landowners and quail hunters to identify the presence and abundance of bobwhites. Check out several NBCI field videos on listening for the covey call on NBCI’s technical web site Quailcount.org, and on the NBCI YouTube channel (search on Bobwhites’ Koi-Lee).
The past few years’ high quail numbers in much of the species’ range provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set a personal record, either for the most quail you’ve ever heard, or, if quail are scarce in your area, to measure, via sound, if they have reappeared. In times of abundance and mild weather some bobwhites move from habitat strongholds to marginal habitat, so you might be pleasantly surprised by their reappearance.
Bobwhites roost during the mild weather of fall in herbaceous vegetation in open landscapes (grass, weeds, crop fields, etc.), rather than among shrubs, briars, fence rows and woods. Perhaps these open-landscape nocturnal roost sites are selected to avoid raptor perches in trees and mammalian travel paths along habitat edges. Considering that bobwhites spend more of their life in nocturnal roost habitat than in any other single activity, this habitat is important to investigate.
A best (research) practice is to find, flush and count quail in the coveys you hear calling. Flushing calling coveys increases your identification of roosting habitat, accuracy of identifying the locations of calling coveys, and accuracy of total quail, via calculation of actual average covey size. Coveys often move away from roosts soon after calling, so try to flush them soon after sunrise.
Among wildlife vocalizations, bobwhites are unique because their calling in fall is predictably 15-40 minutes before sunrise. This “koi lee” sounding call likely facilitates the formation of coveys from broods. Calling is best heard on mornings when barometric pressure is high, wind speed is low, and there are few clouds. You can hear calling quail about 547 yards away, or an area around you of 194 acres.
If you hear one covey calling, research indicates there could be another covey present, and you could double your observation to an estimated two coveys on 194 acres. A rule-of-thumb average covey size is 12 quail, which translates to an estimated 1 quail per 8 acres. In the better quail habitat areas, biologists expect 1 quail per 2 to 4 acres.
If bobwhites are scarce in your area, here’s a tip—during the pre-sunrise listening period play the fall covey call with your smartphone and a Bluetooth speaker. When quail are scarce this can be the catalyst for a wild covey to respond.
Bobwhite biologists have conducted considerable research to understand fall bobwhite calling behavior. NBCI’s new online version of the National Quail Symposium Proceedings has many of these study reports—search on “covey calling.” Several NBCI partners have elaborate protocol on the technique–search the internet for “covey calling” or check these websites:
Tall Timbers Research Station, http://talltimbers.org/how-many-bobwhite-coveys-are-there/
University of Missouri http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G9433.
Texas A&M University https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Bn2p8sCTW4
All bobwhite enthusiasts should take advantage of this unique opportunity to better understand our favorite bird. As said by the biologist in the Koi-Lee YouTube about hearing fall coveys, “It doesn’t get a whole lot more exciting.”
Are you a landowner that has prescribed burning to be completed in the upcoming months? If so, you should already be in the planning stages for what needs to be done. And one of the most important items in your toolbox is a plan of operations that outlines how, when and where the burn will take place.
You should have your plan written ahead of burning season to take advantage of good burning weather conditions whenever they occur. The plan can be as simple or as complex as you want, but there are some important items that should be in every plan. (For even more information about what should go in a prescribed fire plan for your specific state, you should contact the state forestry or fire agency at http://stateforesters.org/regional-state.)
If you have plans to conduct a prescribe burn this burning season, contact your local forestry agency as soon as possible to get on their list for firebreak installation. If you’re not comfortable with conducting your own burn, or you don’t have a contractor, ask if they assist landowners in conducting prescribed burns. If so, get on that list too. Just remember, they may not always be able to get to everyone that requests assistance because of varying circumstances, i.e., weather, number of requests, wildfire danger, etc. If the local forestry agency doesn’t assist with burning or they have a large backlog of requests, they should have a list of contractors who conduct prescribed burning in your area.
Another beneficial item in the toolbox is a map of the area to be burned. It should show where firebreaks should be installed, along with identifying any natural firebreaks that may be in the burn area. A map should also show any sensitive areas and/or areas such as improved areas, areas of young reproduction, etc. that you want excluded from fire. The map should also indicate the desired wind direction for conducting the prescribed burn, where the fire should be ignited, control areas, etc.
The fire weather forecast is your best friend as it comes closer to the time for conducting any prescribed fires because the weather doesn’t always cooperate. Plans may be to burn on a certain day, but the fire weather forecast may not be the best on that day, so burn managers and landowners have to be flexible with their calendar. Give Prescribed Burning Your FIRST Priority When Weather Conditions Are Favorable.
Some states also require notification be given when conducting a prescribed burn and a permit number issued. It’s always a good idea to notify the authorities when planning a prescribed burn, regardless.
When burning for bobwhites and other wildlife, prescribed burns should be carried out on a more frequent basis than when burning for other purposes (preferably every TWO years and no more than three years between fires). Burning on a 4-5 year rotation WILL NOT maintain bobwhite habitat. Burn units should also be smaller (a goal should be 50 acres or less) with adjacent areas of approximately the same size being left unburned. Burning large unbroken areas at one time leaves large areas with no escape cover for bobwhites. Having a mix of smaller burned and unburned areas within a stand or forest provides plenty of escape cover. Unburned areas should be close enough to burned areas for short fliers like bobwhites.
Remember, prescribed fire is one of the most important tools, that we, as landowners and land managers, have in managing and maintaining the habitat that we want and that bob requires. The other, in my opinion, is the paint gun for marking the trees that we either want to leave or remove from the forest. But that is for another time.
This month’s BLOG is not only late – it is short and to the point.
I am proud of our Private Lands Wildlife Biologist team. We have become known as the “Quail team” but this group of biologists is so much more than that. Their capabilities have grown to include a wide array of habitat management skills across a wide range of ecosystems. And they continue to improve and broaden their capabilities. It is hard to believe they have been working with us for almost 8 years now. Many of them are playing key roles in the quail world.
Most recent examples include leading a major marketing strategy for the Communications Subcommittee of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee, and playing key roles in the design of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Working Lands for Wildlife Program’s new Cattle and Quail Initiative for Virginia – providing a template for many other states involved. They called themselves the B.I.G. Team – for Bobwhites in Grasslands. The link provided with this BLOG will take you to their latest edition of the Bobwhite Bulletin. It speaks for itself. We hope you enjoy it.