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

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

... Forest Management Initiatives Show Promise for Bobwhites, Says NBCI

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

Longleaf in Mississippi  
   

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.

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

… New NBCI Coordinated Implementation Program Taking Center Stage

Bobwhite experts from around the country will converge in West Des Moines, IA July 29-August 1 for the 2014 meeting of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC).

Theme of the meeting is “Living on the Edge,” a reference to where the northern edge of the quail range meets the transitional edge between grasslands, forests and agriculture, according to Todd Bogenschutz, who is coordinating the event on behalf of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Iowa is one of 25 member states of the NBTC, the technical group guiding the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI), and West Des Moines will be the farthest north the bobwhite group has convened for its annual meeting.

Expected to be a central topic is the new NBCI Coordinated Implementation Program (http://goo.gl/wcQJBh). It was adopted by the NBCI Management Board – representing state wildlife agency directors -- in March. The voluntary program lays out a specific, step-by-step roadmap for identifying and developing NBCI Bobwhite Focal Areas, along with measures of success, for impact on a landscape scale. And although the primary target is the bobwhite, the program’s impacts extend far beyond bobwhites to include a suite of declining songbirds, pollinators and other species. Six states, including Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas and Virginia, beta tested the approach in 2013 and are moving forward with implementation. Oklahoma and Nebraska are expected to join in, and other states are primed to make announcements as well.

“I think some people will perhaps be surprised at some of the states that step up to the plate on this new program, developed by the states themselves, to make restoration attempts at a landscape scale more clear cut, definable and measurable,” said NBCI Director Don McKenzie. “The NBCI states run the gamut from the second largest state in the U.S. to the second smallest, and they cover a landscape that varies from the cornfields of the Midwest to the rangelands of Texas and the longleaf pine of the South. The variety is incredible.”

A wide range of additional issues will also be discussed in the context of bobwhite conservation and habitat management, including forest management, agriculture policy, grassland and grazing lands issues.

NBCI will also debut its National Fire Bird Conservation Awards program in Iowa. The program gives state quail coordinators the opportunity to recognize an individual, group or entity that has made “significant contributions” to the advancement of “the habitat-based, landscape-scale restoration of wild bobwhites.”  (The term “fire bird” was first coined by biologist Herbert Stoddard, who published the first comprehensive study of bobwhites in 1931 and made the connection between the bobwhite’s dependency on fire on the landscape in much of its range.)

“Landscape-scale habitat restoration is exactly what we are all about,” said McKenzie. “And if there are individuals, groups or entities that are assisting the effort at that level then we want to recognize and thank them, and we want the world to know their contributions. We can’t restore wild bobwhite populations alone. It’s going to take the cooperation of many others.”

NBTC membership consists of dues-paying students or professionals (minimum bachelors degree, or currently enrolled as a student in wildlife or related science or art) employed by a state, provincial or federal agency, conservation group, or private company that has an interest in the conservation of wild bobwhites, or is self-employed with a professional interest in the conservation of wild bobwhites.

The Wildlife Society (TWS) is also offering up to 30 hours of continuing education units (CEUs) for maintenance of the “certified professional wildlife biologist” title for those certified wildlife biologists participating.

Cost of registration, including membership dues, is $250. Eligible participants can register at http://meetings.iowatws.org

Meeting sponsors currently include Iowa State Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Quail Coalition and King Communications.

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