We are well into our second year of implementing the Virginia Quail Recovery Initiative and we’ve had some success, especially in terms of measuring “inputs.” We can say our biologists and partners have made close to 600 site visits and placed several thousand acres of new habitat on the ground. They have visited with landowners who control over 75,000 acres of land. But you have to be careful measuring — and touting — “inputs.” It’s much harder to measure “outputs,” otherwise known as “results.” Claiming success based on measuring inputs is akin to a bird dog trainer measuring their success based on numbers of dogs “trained.” “Hey Mr. Smith, I heard you’ve trained 376 bird dogs … is that true?” “Well, yes, it is young man, now mind ya, none of them will hold a point, retrieve, or ‘whoa’ very well, but I’ve run that many through here.” Our ultimate goal, of course, is to measure an increase in quail populations in an area as large as a county, or perhaps a region, of our state. Along with that, we’d love to see more folks out in the field chasing a bird dog and finding more quail. Ultimately, we would like to reverse the downward spiral in the number of bird hunters. This summer and fall will be our first opportunity to start measuring “outputs,” and we are optimistic, so stay tuned.
Welcome to the recently-created website of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. What you see here is the result of NBCI’s creation of a blogging platform to give a voice to state quail/small game coordinators’ efforts with quail management in their respective states. And I’m proud to be a part of the NBCI efforts.
This is my first “blog,” so bear with me. It is named after my first bird dog, Shell, who will be 17 on May 30th – Lord willing. For more about us, click HERE to read my article “Listening Closely to an Old Bird Dog,” printed with permission of Virginia Wildlife Magazine.
I am 48 years old and my first bird dog is almost 17…wait a minute…that means I started bird hunting in 1993. That was the year before I bought Shell as a penniless grad student. Seriously, we shared food from time to time…LOL.
Part 1 of 2
President George W. Bush stood on a farm in southern Minnesota in August 2004 to announce a new agriculture conservation practice specifically designed for bobwhites and grassland birds. This unprecedented presidential attention to bobwhite conservation culminated a years-long effort to raise the game for restoring a treasured species in long-term decline.
For decades, bobwhite conservation agencies, institutions and organizations conducted research and small-scale quail projects independently and in relative isolation. The result was a vast body of scientific knowledge and management experience virtually unmatched in the history of wildlife conservation. Over those same decades, range-wide bobwhite populations declined continuously.
Biological and management expertise are essential requisites to wildlife conservation. Clearly, however, such expertise is not enough, by itself, to restore quail. Not until the community of bobwhite experts gathered from their separated positions across the Southeast to organize, collaborate and strategize did their wealth of knowledge and expertise begin to gain conservation traction.
Quail managers have demonstrated repeatedly that we know how to restore and manage quality habitat to produce more birds on just about any specific piece of land. Meanwhile, millions of acres of habitat have slowly, subtly been degraded by changing human uses of land in dozens of states. The resulting landscape now is largely unfriendly for bobwhites and a multitude of other grassland birds.
Lee and Anne Ballard own 328 acres in Williamsburg County, South Carolina. Historically, the property was farmed for cotton before Mr. Ballard purchased it in1993. After 1989’s Hurricane Hugo the majority of the timber was cut leaving sparse trees throughout the tract. From 1993-1995 there were 12-15 northern bobwhite coveys and then the number of coveys decreased markedly as plant succession progressed. In 2000, Mr. Ballard retired and began managing the property for wildlife, especially quail. After 2001 coveys again began increasing to 12-15 coveys across the property.
Mr. and Mrs. Ballard have been avid hunters and are wildlife enthusiasts so they understand the importance of managing habitat for wildlife. In 2005 they enrolled 33 acres of the property’s cropland into the Conservation Reserve Program’s (CRP) CP33 Upland Quail Buffers. These field borders have provided valuable nesting habitat and cover on field edges. Mr. Ballard has found up to three different brood coveys in one buffer. Only one year after the installation of field borders three times as many quail were reported calling in these areas during the annual quail call counts.
David Sapp moved back to the family farm in Mitchell County, Georgia in the 1990’s and soon found that the quail he enjoyed hunting as a young man had all but moved out.
In 2005, David enrolled portions of the crop fields on the farm in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). He installed field borders and fallowed dry corners of irrigated crop fields through CP33, a program to provide Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds. He enrolled a total of 10.0 acres in the program and immediately began planting native grasses and legumes to bring along the habitat.
In addition to CRP, he applied for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP): Sustainable Forest and Wildlife Management. Through this program, David was awarded funds to offset the cost associated with prescribed burning and to serve as an incentive in thinning pine stands found on the farm.