The contributions to wild bobwhite restoration by entities and/or individuals in six states claimed the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s (NBCI) National Fire Bird Conservation Awards during ceremonies at the annual meeting of the nation’s bobwhite experts in Iowa recently. Award recipients are chosen by the respective NBCI-member state’s quail coordinator for their contributions to that state’s efforts toward habitat-based restoration of wild bobwhite populations.
“We wanted to provide an avenue for states to recognize and thank those making meaningful contributions to their science-based restoration agendas, illustrate the variety of those contributing to the bobwhite restoration cause and perhaps help encourage others to join in,” said NBCI Director Don McKenzie. “We need as many individuals, agencies and organizations as possible actively contributing to this unified 25-state strategy.”
The award’s name symbolizes the historic reliance of bobwhites on fire in much of its range to maintain the landscape in an “early successional” stage, that is, in the native grasses, wildflowers and “weeds” providing bobwhites with suitable habitat. Both wildfires and fires intentionally set by landowners to clear farm fields and woodlots historically resulted in abundant habitat for bobwhites, as well as numerous other wildlife species. The term “fire bird” in relation to bobwhites was first coined by naturalist Herbert Stoddard, who researched bobwhites and worked to restore bobwhite habitat in the early 20th Century.
Today, “prescribed” fire under controlled conditions by trained professionals has become an increasingly important tool for helping create and manage habitat for bobwhites, as well as a suite of songbirds and other wildlife that require early successional habitat to survive.
2014 award recipients were:
GEORGIA: Di-Lane Plantation Wildlife Management Area Team
(John Bearden, Henry Williams, Steve Kyles, John Lovett, Haven Barnhill, I.B. Parnell, Vic VanSant, Lee Taylor, Buck Marchinton)
“Despite landscape and site limitations, management has produced an excellent bobwhite population and public land quail hunting,” wrote Reggie Thackston, Georgia quail coordinator. “The success at Di-Lane has been widely acclaimed and is stimulating strong interest and support for bobwhite management on public and private lands; and thereby contributes greatly to the Wildlife Resources Division’s efforts in attaining NBCI goals.”
KENTUCKY: Team Leaders, “Road to Recovery: The Blueprint for Restoring the Northern Bobwhite in Kentucky”
(Tom Edwards—Bluegrass Army Depot Focal Area; Nathan Gregory—Clay WMA Focal Area; Philip Sharp-- Livingston County Focal Area; and Eric Williams—Peabody WMA Focal Area)
“As a group, they have put KY’s bobwhite restoration effort on the national map,” wrote Kentucky’s quail coordinator, John Morgan. Kentucky reported a 57% increase in bobwhites observed in its annual statewide mail carrier surveys between 2012 and 2013, the Peabody WMA has demonstrated a 91% increase in its fall bobwhite population over five years, the Shaker Village project is holding steady with 50 coveys of bobwhites, and the Hart County Quail Focus area has demonstrated a 771% increase in bobwhites from 2008-2012, while the Bluegrass Army Depot Focus Area registered a 57% increase during the same period.
LOUISIANA: U.S. Forest Service, Kisatchie National Forest
The U.S. Forest Service recently approved the creation of a new Bobwhite Emphasis Area in the Vernon Unit of the Calcasieu Ranger District of Kisatchie National Forest. Explained Louisiana’s quail coordinator, Jimmy Stafford, “The U. S. Forest Service manages some 604,000 acres in Louisiana known as the Kisatchie National Forest. Most of Kisatchie N.F. is upland pine habitat ranging from shortleaf pine in the north to longleaf pine in the south. The primary management on these lands is timber harvests and prescribed fire. Approximately, 121,000 acres are prescribed burned each year. The Forest Service has demonstrated its commitment to maximize early successional habitats through widespread prescribed fire … and have also eagerly joined with state quail biologists to identify ways to further improve habitats for bobwhites.”
SOUTH CAROLINA: Mark Coleman, Spartanburg
According to South Carolina’s quail coordinator, Willie Simmons: “As a private citizen, Mark Coleman has been a cooperator in SCDNR’s Quail Hunter Survey for over 15 years. During that time, he has maintained constant contact with the Small Game Project Supervisor offering assistance with projects and initiatives.
“Mark is a staunch supporter of SCDNR and of scientific wildlife management in general. Following publication of the NBCI 2.0 (in 2011), Mark was one of the few quail hunters, if not the only one in South Carolina, to embrace the new planning paradigm, openly and wholehearted supporting the plan in conversations with other bird hunters and in various public forums...
“Through conversations with the SCDNR Small Game Project Supervisor and with NBCI Director Don McKenzie, Mark heeded the call to action from the initial State of the Bobwhite report and immediately engaged policy makers in South Carolina. He personally appeared before the SCDNR Board to request and promote wild bobwhite management in South Carolina.
“Although he is far too modest to accept any credit or praise, he was directly responsible for renewed emphasis and urgency on completion of South Carolina’s statewide quail restoration plan. He continues to this day to offer financial and logistic support for establishment of a statewide quail council, the next step in implementation of the South Carolina plan.”
TENNESSEE: Bill Smith, TWRA
From Tennessee’s quail coordinator, Dr. Roger Applegate: “Bill manages Kyker Bottoms Refuge and Foothills Wildlife Management Area in eastern Tennessee. Kyker Bottoms is 525 acres of true early-successional habitat that likely produces the best bobwhite population in Tennessee. Bill manages this habitat as old field and is a one-man show. He also permits a very conservative hunting opportunity on a quality bobwhite resource. Bill is an example to other land managers in Tennessee and other states by providing the habitat that bobwhite evolved in.”
VIRGINIA: The Virginia Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Conservation Management Institute at Virginia Tech
Wrote bobwhite coordinators Marc Puckett and Jay Howell: “They are two legs of the 3-legged stool that supports our private lands quail recovery program… While we have many valued partners, without which our quail plan would be much less effective, the two recognized in this nomination are the backbone of the program.” Cited was the comprehensive support of the two organizations in the recruiting, hiring, paying and administratively supporting the state’s team of private lands biologists working to restore bobwhites on private lands in Virginia.
Headquartered at the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture, NBCI is an initiative of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC) to elevate bobwhite quail recovery from an individual state-by-state proposition to a coordinated, range-wide leadership endeavor. The committee is comprised of representatives of 25 state wildlife agencies, various academic research institutions and private conservation organizations. Funds for NBCI are provided from a variety of sources, including the respective state wildlife agencies, the Wildlife Restoration Program, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Park Cities Quail
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- The authoritative organization of the nation’s bobwhite experts honored the chief of wildlife for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and a bird conservation joint venture for their respective contributions to the restoration of northern bobwhites in their annual meeting here recently.
The National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC) presented its annual Award for Individual Achievement to Billy Dukes, who has spent more than 20 years actively involved in the bobwhite effort. South Carolina’s new chief of wildlife, Dukes began his career as a staff biologist working with the Fur Resources Project and the Small Game Project, eventually becoming supervisor of the Small Game Project, assistant wildlife chief and then wildlife chief in May. Dukes has been an active leader in every annual meeting of the group, served as chair of the group’s steering committee, oversaw the transition of the technical group from a “Southeast-only” effort to the larger range-wide 25-state effort, as well as the growth in capacity of the technical group’s National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI).
The Group Achievement Award went to the Oaks and Prairies Joint Venture (OPJV) in Oklahoma and Texas, represented by Dr. James Giocomo, OPJV coordinator. NBTC cited the joint venture’s priority commitment to integrated habitat conservation for both bobwhites and a suite of associated grassland birds, as well as its active support of the bobwhite technical group.
Among the organization’s many contributions is the creation of its Grassland Restoration Incentive Program (GRIP) that uses NGO, corporate, and state funding to encourage and support private landowner conservation activities through direct financial assistance to supplement Farm Bill programs that may miss important areas due to national and state restrictions. GRIP has already provided support to private landowners for habitat improvement work on over 34,000 acres in the first 7 months since implementation in November 2013. In addition, the OPJV partners are positioned to expand all aspects of conservation planning, population monitoring, and conservation tracking to support private landowners in meeting conservation delivery objectives identified in NBCI 2.0, the range-wide restoration plan for bobwhites.
August 14, 2014
Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Charles F. “Chuck” Sykes has designated Mark Sasser as the
new quail coordinator for the state. Sasser is a veteran bobwhite manager and Alabama’s current non-game wildlife program coordinator. He replaces Carrie Threadgill, who works for Sasser as the Central Alabama nongame biologist in the non-game wildlife program.
Alabama is one of 25 states in the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI), the states’ unified, coordinated strategy to restore plummeting wild bobwhite populations across the bird’s core range. Each state has a designated quail coordinator to represent it in the effort on a daily basis, as well as serve on the range-wide technical committee behind the initiative.
Sasser, who has a B.S. in Wildlife Science from Auburn University, began his wildlife career managing a private quail plantation in east central Alabama. His interests in quail management led him to northwest Florida to work for what was then the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission, where he spent the next 18 years focusing on bobwhite quail and wild turkey research and management. In Florida, he was heavily involved with the management of Florida’s state bird dog field trial grounds, the Blackwater Field Trial Area, which was managed for wild quail.
From 1990-1998, he also served on the Quail Task Force for Ames Plantation in Grand Junction, Tennessee, the home of the National Bird Dog Championship. He left Florida in 1998, joining the private sector for the next four years before deciding to return “home” to Alabama.
In 2002, he accepted a wildlife biologist position with Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, becoming the coordinator of the Non-game Wildlife Program. In 2010, he received the coveted Governor’s Conservation Achievement Award as Wildlife Conservationist of the Year. He continued his interest in quail management and Sykes, who was hired only last year, expanded Sasser’s role to include quail coordinator duties while enlarging his staff.
Sasser admits his favorite hobby has always been quail hunting, bird dogs, and field trials. “Although I don’t compete in field trials or judge anymore, I keep a couple of walking horses around and still enjoy riding and watching the big dogs run at a few field trials here in Alabama when me and my buddies aren’t hunting. I’m looking forward to being ‘officially’ in the quail arena again,” Sasser said.
August 4, 2014
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa— A decades-long tradition of good land stewardship and aggressive bobwhite management and research across roughly 20 million acres of native rangeland was recognized here last week as South Texas became the nation’s first “Legacy Landscape for Northern Bobwhite Conservation.”
The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) and its technical body, the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC), announced the designation during the annual meeting of the nation’s bobwhite experts. Dr. Leonard Brennan, with the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M in Kingsville, accepted on behalf of the legion of “dedicated, responsible landowners, resource managers, researchers, and quail hunters” who earned the designation.
“The national bobwhite community recognizes and encourages efforts to conserve vast areas of bobwhite habitat, whether through management practices or other decisions, that provide long-term viability of not only wild bobwhite populations but also many other associated species,” said NBCI Director Don McKenzie. “South Texas is a longstanding national model for such efforts and tradition, and we commend the region and its people for this enviable status.”
Clayton Wolf, wildlife division director with Texas Parks & Wildlife, reacted to the designation saying, “Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) congratulates all the landowners, land managers and hunters of South Texas for receiving this prestigious designation recognizing their efforts to conserve this iconic game bird. TPWD, universities, conservation organizations and other agencies have a long history of working with private landowners and hunters in South Texas to address the conservation, research, and management needs of the northern bobwhite. Through these efforts, decisions on the best management approaches have resulted in bobwhite populations that continue to thrive even in the face of near record drought over the last several years.
“The support that TPWD provides in this partnership, and much of the support from others, would not be possible without the contributions of hunters, and specifically quail hunters that purchase Upland Game Bird Stamps. Above all, the persistence and abundance of the bobwhite on the landscape in South Texas result from a land stewardship ethic that is clearly the foundation for the success of this species and many others.”
Said Henry Hamman of Houston, Texas: “As a representative of south Texas landowners and also in my role as Chair of the Advisory Board of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, we are honored by this designation. It will go a long way to highlighting the importance of this region to wild quail.”
Fred Bryant, Exec Director of CKWRI, said: “What an honor and affirmation by the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. This recognition sets us apart as a bastion of wild quail habitat in a region we have coined as the ‘Last Great Habitat’. The stamp of approval is heart-warming to all of the conservation and hunting community we represent.”
Primary criteria for the Legacy Landscape designation includes an extensive area of ecologically “contiguous” habitat that has for decades supported high densities of wild northern bobwhites, a long-term tradition of purposefully implementing or maintaining land use practices that support bobwhite habitat conservation, and landowners, hunters and other stakeholders who have demonstrated strong support for quail hunting, management and/or quail research over multiple decades.
August 5, 2014
Substantial progress is being made on the bobwhite restoration front through two national initiatives that some might find surprising – the restoration of native longleaf and shortleaf pine forests in their historic ranges. And the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) is playing an integral role in both, says NBCI Director Don McKenzie.
On July 22, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will moderate a panel discussion in Washington, DC on the last five years of
progress in restoring the nation’s longleaf pine forests, a historically fertile ground for coveys of bobwhites. NBCI Forestry Coordinator Mike Black, in his role as chair of the Longleaf Partnership Council, will be one of the five panelists, “a reflection of NBCI’s active role in longleaf pine forest restoration,” says NBCI Director Don McKenzie.
“The bottom line is that after decades of decline and loss in net longleaf pine acreage, the net acreage for longleaf has begun to increase on a range-wide basis,” said McKenzie, “and that expansion is expected to continue. That’s good news for bobwhites.
“From the beginning, NBCI identified active, purposeful forest management, especially of southern pines, as the most potentially fertile ground for expansion of bobwhite habitat on a landscape scale, hence the NBCI ‘forestry coordinator’ position,” said McKenzie. “Decisions are made by the people who show up, and NBCI has been there representing bobwhites as decisions are made in these two initiatives. And that will pay dividends for bobwhite populations.”
Because of the enormous habitat potential, NBCI and bobwhites have been “at the table” consistently with both the longleaf pine initiative and the newer “shortleaf pine initiative,” with NBCI’s Black actively involved as “senior conservationist” with the shortleaf effort. The shortleaf initiative is expected to deliver a range-wide restoration plan in September. A job announcement has been posted for a director of that initiative, which will be headquartered at the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture, where NBCI is headquartered.
“Most people think of bobwhites in a strictly agricultural setting and that really isn’t the case historically,” said Black. “When fire-dependent longleaf and shortleaf pine forests blanketed millions of acres, those forests were often thick with bobwhites. The frequent fire necessary for both species’ seeds to sprout also created conditions favorable to native grasses and forbs, the ground level conditions required by bobwhites. These pines are slow growing, but also tremendously valuable in the market, which should interest landowners who want a financial return on their efforts but also value wildlife.”
Longleaf pine forests alone once encompassed more than 90 million acres of the North American landscape. Today, only three percent, or 3.4 million acres, remain and, yet, longleaf pine forests represent some of the world's most biologically diverse ecosystems, providing critical habitat for 29 threatened and endangered species. Also biologically diverse, shortleaf pine forests once covered 281 million acres in 24 states, but have been reduced to six million acres today.