Old Shell Crosses The River

Shell

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.

 

 

shell picture_resized_cropped

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.

 

The Undignified Death of Weeds

Maybe you recall the movie “Unforgiven.” It has become a classic, and it earned awards for star (and director?) Clint Eastwood – 

Best Picture among them. In one memorable scene near the movie’s end, Gene Hackman’s character “Little Bill” lays dying, but still defiant, on the floor. Clint stands over him with Morgan Freeman’s Sharps rifle cocked. Little Bill says “I don’t deserve to die like this.” To which Clint replies, just before finishing him, “Deserving’s got nothin to do with it.”

Maybe it is quite a leap to relate this back to quail management, but at least I got your attention. It made me think of the undignified deaths of so many plants deemed “weeds” by the masses of “lawn-like landscape” lovers out there. So many “weeds” die an undeserved death by bush-hog or broad-spectrum herbicide at the hands of landowners bent on wasting $4.00 dollar a gallon diesel fuel in fighting an ill-conceived war with Mother Nature.

As wildlife professionals, we have been ineffective in educating the public as to the value of “weeds” and “brush.” Think about this, “A weed by any other name may be a Rose.” A poor twist on Shakespeare, no doubt, but the point is – many of the things people call weeds, are in fact valuable wildflowers, grasses and shrubs. They do not deserve to die “undignified” deaths at the hands of uneducated, mis-informed – though perhaps even well meaning landowners.

If you have worked as a wildlife biologist in the field of private lands management, you have undoubtedly heard the following: “Marc, I got that old field cleaned up; I was in there all week with the dozer and bush hog. I have it down to bare dirt. What do I need to plant for quail?”

I find that the “food plot” mentality still prevails in some cases, more than two decades into what I call the “modern era” of quail management. We have simply failed in spreading the word about proper habitat management for promoting early-succession species like bobwhites.

One of the biggest challenges in working with landowners is to first help them recognize the good habitats they already have. Indeed, there are times when setting things back to “ground zero” may be necessary, and soil disturbance in the form of disking, or prescribed fire is a big part of quail management. But it must be done with some degree of discretion and knowledge of proper application.

What can you do as a quail enthusiast? First – learn. Educate yourself about the hundreds of plants many collectively call “weeds.” Knowing something by name automatically elevates a person’s appreciation of it. Briers become blackberry, greenbrier and raspberry thickets. Brush becomes wild plum, sumac and elderberry “coverts.” Weedy fields evolve into ironweed, Joe-pye weed, goldenrod, Maxamillion sunflower, beggar-weed, wild bean, sweet pea, and native grass “meadows.” Then – share your knowledge with a neighbor. We have become such a society of “texters.” We stand in line at the grocery store, right next to fellow citizens of planet earth, texting someone half a county away, when it has been months since we walked over to our neighbors house and said “hello, how are you, and by-the-way – I’m leaving this habitat along my field edge for a reason.”

Then learn how to properly apply prescribed fire, rotational disking and, yes, in some cases, selective herbicides to promote healthy, early-succession plant communities. They are indeed a highly valuable component of the landscape. But until these transitional plant communities are recognized by the masses as being valuable, they are destined to continue to undeservedly disappear from our lives. I am “preaching to the choir.” It is your responsibility to go out and preach to those who may not even recognize the hymn book.

And while you are out there, maybe also take the time to thank a military veteran, or an active duty Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine, National Guard or Navy person for their service.

Celebrating the Life of a Grand Idea

As Americans we are routinely criticized for using more than our share of the world’s resources, but we are rarely praised for shouldering more than our share of the world’s burdens. A nation can never be perfect, as all nations are composed of imperfect individuals. Differences exist between countries, states, friends, families and neighbors, yet occasionally something reminds us we have more in common, than not.

I remember where I was on 9/11. Always will.  And I will remember that, in spite of the sadness of that event, it galvanized our nation like no other occurrence in my lifetime. I believe a death is nothing to celebrate, so today I would say I am celebrating life – the life of a grand idea expressed by our founding Fathers nearly 235 years ago. Their belief in the inalienable rights of all humans on planet earth. And though we have not always lived up to the idea as we should have, America remains the “light on the hill,” the beacon for freedom that our forefather’s envisioned.

 

Don’t Confuse ‘Inputs’ With Success

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 Shell’s Covert

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.

Marc and ShellThis 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.