Raising Our Game in Tallahassee

Building a bobwhite conservation movement is foremost about working with people. The nation’s premier forum for working with people to promote quail restoration occurs next week (August 9-12) in Tallahassee, Florida.  The 17th annual meeting of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC) is hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) and Tall Timbers Research Station (TTRS), organized by Chuck McKelvy, FWCC Small Game Program Coordinator.

The NBTC (formerly the Southeast Quail Study Group) originated as a technical committee of the southeastern state wildlife agencies; it now has grown to be the unified range-wide bobwhite technical group.  The NBTC is the creator and the keeper of, as well as the brains and the fire behind, the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI).  The NBTC benefits from the participation of myriad conservation partners, including more than two dozen states and numerous organizations, agencies, universities and institutes.

A theme arising from the NBCI was “Raising our Game.”  The NBCI created high expectations and an immense new workload for quail managers accustomed to low expectations and profile.  To their credit, bobwhite managers across the country stood up to raise our game many notches in those next several years, getting organized nationally, becoming a recognized force, and racking up previously untouchable achievements.

The 2011 NBTC meeting is poised to set new standards.

First, the NBCI 2.0, the complete overhaul of the original NBCI, was unveiled this spring at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Kansas City, MO.  The NBCI 2.0 provides a springboard for the NBTC, building on the progress and lessons learned from the original, taking the vision and strategic planning for effective bobwhite conservation to a much higher level.

Second – although the professionals behind the NBTC always have prided themselves on conducting a working meeting with extensive subcommittee deliberations on heavy issues – this meeting has something new:  horsepower.

One year ago, at the 16th meeting in Wichita, KS, the first-ever fulltime NBCI staff (Science Coordinator, Forestry Coordinator, FSA Liaison, and Communications Director) were introduced as new hires.  Their roles, as experts in their respective disciplines, were to provide implementation capacity to the NBTC subcommittees, to forge real progress throughout the year on the subcommittees’ priorities and action items.  Last year, the NBCI staff was green; this year, they already are heavy lifting.

Third, an extra half day has been added for a first-ever NBTC technical workshop to provide specialized training for state quail coordinators.  Led by Tom Dailey (NBCI Science Coordinator) and Theron Terhune (TTRS Research Ecologist, and Project Coordinator for developing the NBCI 2.0), the workshop will improve the fledgling national inventory of quail conservation projects, and train state quail coordinators to use the NBCI 2.0’s Conservation Planning Tool.

Finally, this meeting features an opening presentation by Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and co-chair of the NBCI Management Board.  Wiley may be the first state quail coordinator in the country to rise to the level of director of a state wildlife agency.  I consider his rise to the top a good omen for quail.

There remains a long way to go for bobwhites and the NBCI, but with every step we raise our game, and we are one step further from where we started and another step closer to where we are going.

Stay tuned for reports and updates from Tallahassee by monitoring NBCI’s Facebook page at, and NBCI’s website at !











In Praise of ‘Quail Grunts’

Shell’s Covert

(Quail Grunts)

August 2011


For many of us in Virginia it’s hard to believe that as of July 1, 2011 we began the third year of implementing our latest Quail Recovery Initiative. We have two eventful years and many accomplishments behind us. Our newest quail team is pictured below.


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Photo Credit: Allen Boynton – VDGIF 

Left to right (standing): Bob Glennon, Jay Howell, David Bryan, Andy Rosenberger, Marc Puckett, (kneeling) – Katie Martin, Debbie Wright, Galon Hall.


All of our partners (partnerships – the first key to success), including the hundreds of private landowners who have done more than “talk the talk,” are indispensible to quail recovery in Virginia. There are several key partners that deserve special thanks:

The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, both in enabling the initiative to hire and support five private lands wildlife biologists, and in continuing to offer financial incentives through the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), is a “diamond” partner.

So is the Conservation Management Institute at Virginia Tech, without which the private lands biologists positions would not exist (or our VQC and QMAP list serves).

Add to this list the six Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) through which we offer the Wildlife BMP program (Big Walker, Chowan Basin, Culpeper, Halifax, Headwaters, and Three Rivers) and their supporting agency, the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

These partners form the backbone of the quail initiative.

And so many others contribute significantly to what has become the body of the Virginia quail initiative. These include: The US Forest Service, Dominion – Virginia Power, the Wildlife Foundation of Virginia, Virginia Dept. of Forestry, the Farm Services Agency, Appalachian Mountains Woodcock Initiative, Quail Unlimited, Quail Forever, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Department. of Mines, Minerals and Energy, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and the Environment, The National Wild Turkey Federation, the Virginia Chapter of The Wildlife Society, American Electric Power, River Birch Farm, Reese Farms,  Virginia Trappers Association, US Army Corps of Engineers, the National Audubon Society, Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, and the Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Of the team pictured above, five are our private lands wildlife biologists (David Bryan, Bob Glennon, Katie Martin, Andy Rosenberger and Debbie Wright). They are the true force behind our QRI – the “unsung heroes” without whom implementing the quail initiative would be ineffective.


Comic Perversions & Reality Checks

My Quail’s Backyard Dust Bath


Sheryl and I bought our piece of heaven in central Arkansas in 1998.  The upland 20 acres were “improved” pasture and hayland – sterile, sodbound fields of Bermuda, fescue and bahia.  But I focused—Sheryl says obsessed—on the positives, the potential to restore that land into diverse, native grassland habitat, maybe even to attract and support a covey of wild quail.

My job as NBCI Director is more about people than critters.  Exaggeration?  This job is so socialized (in the societal, not the governmental, sense) that when my computer died this week, my ability to work temporarily died with it.  Contacts, email inbox, Word documents, ongoing projects, archives, references and most of my communications capability were out of commission.  Not only a helpless feeling, but a comically perverse situation, that wildlife conservation could become so dependent on modern technologies.

Restoring habitat on my land not only provides a handhold on sanity during such comic perversions, but also helps me maintain connection and personal experience with field work.  As a bonus, I learn truths about quail management.  Thus, managing my land is my reality check.

On the plus side, quail management demands lots of “stuff.”  I had a good excuse to buy a backpack herbicide sprayer to begin laying waste to acres of introduced forage grasses; then a good chainsaw to thin trees; then burning gear – drip torch, flappers, rakes, and a backpack water sprayer – to feed a fledgling pyromania.  The inevitable big cahuna, of course, was the tractor, a two-cylinder John Deere “Johnny Popper” (wide front end) that’s older than I am but runs better.  We even acquired a herd of goats, ostensibly for brush control.  Between you and me, though, the goats were more for “horse control” … to distract my young daughter’s budding equine fantasies!

On the cold side of the reality check are some of the most valuable life lessons.  Tractors require expensive implements; and endless maintenance.  Chainsaws create heatstroke, lacerations and firewood.  The latter needs a trailer for hauling, a shed for storing, and a woodstove for burning.  Goats must be fenced, but don’t respect fences.  Herbicide sprayers require herbicides; jugs and jugs of it.  Neighbors and passers-by don’t much like fire.  Even when the season and humidity and wind are right, and helping hands are available, and all the phone calls are made, my burns seem to attract undesired attention.  Did I mention the chiggers? … give me serpent-sized rattlers any day!

Worst of all, once the quail habitat is in suitable condition, the sobering reality of 50” annual rainfall sets in.  The vegetation, that I’ve worked so hard to set back to an earlier successional state, seems to grow back by the time I get to the house.  The cycle, and the work, never ends.

Thus, one of the most important reality checks of all:  if quail restoration was easy, everyone would be doing it, and quail already would be restored.  As NBCI Director, this reality must stay at the center of my and our strategic thinking.  If we hope to restore huntable populations of bobwhites across their range, we must find ways to encourage and assist many thousands of people – almost all of whom are less motivated than I am –  to restore and actively manage native grassland habitat.

As I have lounged on my deck this week at happy hour, scratching chiggers and enjoying a computer-less reprieve at work, a pair of wild bobwhites has been dusting in their favorite spot in the middle of our back yard, oblivious to me.  Presumably, she’s laying an egg a day and soon will be incubating.  Yep, it’s worth it – lacerations, chiggers and all!



Quail’s-Eye View of Conservation

Close-up of a quail's head








They wouldn’t call it ‘the minimum’ if it wasn’t good enough. A friend (who will go unnamed), characterizing his teenage son’s philosophy of life.

Strive for excellence, so you don’t get lost in the mass of mediocrity. Jerry Countryman, Decatur High School Band Director (1960-1983), Decatur, Alabama


What is “conservation?”  As a wildlife management undergraduate, I learned it meant “the wise use of natural resources.”  Sounded straight-forward enough at the time.  When applying the concept in the politically charged national conservation policy arena, however, the simplicity can be lost.

Conservation, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, depending upon the resources and people in question.  My vision of conservation includes wise management of lands to accommodate suitable wildlife habitats to the maximum extent feasible.  Other conservationists see the world differently. 

For example, I discovered early in my career that many southern foresters traditionally consider good silvicultural practices, such as plantation pines, to be automatically good wildlife practices, regardless of planting density, basal area or burning frequency.  Likewise, agronomists long have asserted that good soil conservation automatically is good wildlife conservation.  I respectfully disagree.


Old Shell Crosses The River


May 30th, 1994 to June 2nd, 2011


A good Dog.

A great best friend.

Never worried.

Always ready to go.

Never ready to go home.


Rest in peace my best old friend.



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My dear and best old friend, Shell, for whom this blog is named, crossed that last river on Thursday, June 2, 17 years and 3 days after she entered this world.

She was a daily part of my life for all but the first 10 weeks of that time period. That represents 35 percent of my life. Very few things in a person’s life are around, nearly daily, for that long.

It becomes easy to take such things for granted. I urge you to stop whatever you are doing today and call an old friend, give your wife or kid a big hug…or spend some time petting your old dog’s head. When you lose someone, along with the good memories, you’ll also remember a list of things you did not do for them that you should have done. Endeavor to make that list short.

Shell was not a perfect bird dog, thus was a perfect fit for her far less than perfect owner. I’ve never been a perfectionist. In my opinion, life is too short for it, but I suppose those who are perfectionists would argue that life is too short not to strive for perfection. Thus the ying and yang of life.