The 25 state wildlife management agencies, various conservation groups and research institutes that together comprise the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) areexpressing hope that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) newly-announced research on native grasses as part of drought risk management will lead to changes in the agency’s forage subsidy policies.
USDA announced 13 Conservation Innovation Grants for 2013 in April, and two of the grants link native, warm-season grasses to drought management solutions for livestock producers. NBCI Director Don McKenzie says that could be significant because for decades USDA subsidies on millions of acres of private pasturelands have emphasized aggressive, non-native grasses that offer little habitat for wildlife and are vulnerable to drought. Convincing USDA to adopt native, warm-season grasses as a replacement for up to a third of those subsidized acres is a major NBCI objective because of the positive impact on bobwhite quail and other wildlife, as well as producers -- and consumers who end up paying higher prices for beef.
“USDA’s forage subsidy policies are one of the main causes of bobwhite quail decline rangewide,” said NBCI Director Don McKenzie, “as well as the decline of an entire suite of grassland songbirds. NBCI is working with USDA and a range of wildlife and conservation organizations to promote policies that benefit both producers and wildlife.”
The issue came into sharper focus in 2011-2012 as the drought left livestock producers across the country’s midsection with pastures full of drought-stricken cool-season exotics and no way to feed their herds. NBCI responded with a coalition of 30 conservation groups urging the USDA to shift a portion of their subsidies toward replanting drought-stricken pastures in drought-tolerant native forage grasses instead of the traditional exotics.
“If native grasses had been a substantial part of the agricultural mix we wouldn’t have seen so many producers in so much trouble during the drought,” said McKenzie, “… and we would have seen more quail and grassland songbirds. And taxpayers would not have to foot such a large bill for re-planting the same pastures that will again die during the next drought.”
One USDA grant of $398,714 went to a team of researchers at the University of Tennessee that included the Center for Native Grasslands Management and animal and plant scientists to study the integration of native, warm-season grasses in the “cow-calf production area” of Tennessee/Arkansas/Kentucky. The objective is to deliver “a comprehensive and transformative approach to forage production,” … (and to) “make a substantial impact on their ability to respond to droughts over the long-term.” Grazing demonstrations will include a variety of native, warm-season grasses.
A second USDA grant of $400,153 went to Mississippi State University to demonstrate the drought mitigation impacts of native grasses utilized in both grazing systems and confined feeding operations for beef cattle compared with cool season forages.
Meanwhile, studies have already shown that native, warm-season forage grasses produce competitive amounts of hay per acre compared with the exotics, cost far less per acre to grow once established because of reduced fertilizer requirements, are longer-lived (lasting 15-20 years or more with proper management), that livestock actually prefer the native grasses over the exotics, and that the natives are extremely drought resistant.
Recently, the Arkansas Farm Bureau recently advised its membership to consider incorporating native, warm-season grasses as forage in the cover story of a recent issue of Arkansas Agriculture magazine. In addition, the Texas AgriLife Extension has published several works on establishing and managing native grasses in the Lone Star State, and several state wildlife agencies, including the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency have pages on their websites devoted to the subject.
Earlier this month, even the New York Times touched on the subject when reporting on Texas ranchers’ struggle with drought impacts. However, one interviewee was Texas rancher Gary Price … who has continued his profitability through the 2011-2012 drought as his cows grazed on the native grasses he restored on his ranch after seeing how resilient they were.
“Integrating native, warm-season grasses into livestock operations is simply a commonsense approach that’s good for producers, good for wildlife, good for consumers and good for taxpayers,” said McKenzie.
A bobwhite enthusiast in Texas kicked off fundraising for the new Bobwhite Foundation this week with a $100,000 endowment …and a promise to match up to $1 million in “endowed”
donations from any other source within the next two years.
Joe Crafton, founder and chair of Park Cities Quail in Dallas, made the announcement via video to a meeting of the Management Board of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) at the North American Wildlife & Natural Resources Conference in Arlington, VA Tuesday. A graduate of the University of Tennessee, Crafton is CEO and president of CROSSMARK, a leading sales and marketing services company in the consumer goods industry headquartered in Dallas.
In his recorded video message to the NBCI Management Board, Crafton said he had grown up in West Tennessee hunting bobwhite quail on the ancestral farm with his father, who had grown up quail hunting there with his father. His father was devastated at the quail decline, but Crafton said he personally was “thrilled” to see populations of bobwhites when he moved to the Lone Star State, where he proceeded to establish the Park Cities Quail organization. The organization has raised more than $3 million for quail research in the state. Crafton was also instrumental in the founding of the Quail Coalition, linking 12 independent, private quail groups around the state.
Crafton said there are many good things going on for quail in various states, including Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Kentucky, and he wants to ensure those things are communicated and coordinated as best practices across the range and to the public. Repeating outdoor columnist Tom Davis’ description of the bobwhite situation as “our greatest wildlife tragedy,” Crafton said “there are a lot of people who would like to contribute and don’t know how … my father would have contributed to the Bobwhite Foundation if it had existed … I’m confident throughout the South and Midwest we have lots of passionate quail hunters who are doing their estate planning and can contribute to this cause.” Crafton said he was supporting the foundation in honor of his father.
“Bobwhite restoration is unlike any species restoration that’s been attempted,” said NBCI Director Don McKenzie. “Deer, turkey and elk were relatively simple and straightforward. Habitat existed and we moved animals there. Much like waterfowl restoration, bobwhite restoration is a habitat issue. “Bobwhites didn’t disappear overnight and they won’t recover that way either… which means it’s a multi-year challenge requiring a long-term commitment. This is the first critical step in assuring that the bobwhite restoration effort has reliable funding to continue long-term. Joe’s passion for bobwhites and his willingness to launch the foundation’s efforts in memory of his father are immensely important, and we are extremely thankful for his leadership in this arena,” McKenzie said.
The Bobwhite Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization established to support the goals and objectives of NBCI, primarily by recreating habitat by “reconnecting” forest management with quail, cattle production with quail, pursing quail habitat possibilities on reclaimed mine lands and communicating to the public the urgent nature of the decline of habitat for quail and other wildlife species around the nation.
The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) has hired a certified wildlife biologist from Texas, Kyle A. Brazil, as its new agriculture policy coordinator based in Washington, D.C.Brazil’s job is to be a voice in the Beltway for wild quail to help NBCI and allies effect national agriculture policy that is more favorable to wildlife and wildlife habitat on private agricultural lands.
Brazil previously worked as the quail & grasslands birds program leader for Audubon Texas, where among his many responsibilities was the implementation of the Texas Quail Conservation Initiative and the NBCI with other partners in the state. He also served stints with Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) as a regulatory wildlife biologist, with the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M as a graduate research assistant (studying the relationship of habitat structure and bobwhite productivity at the landscape scale in south Texas) and as coordinator of the South Texas Quail Associates Program, and with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation as a research technician and research intern.
Brazil also served on the TPWD’s Upland Game Bird Advisory Council, the USDA/NRCS Texas State Technical Advisory Committee and as a member of the Oaks & Prairies Joint Venture technical committee. He earned a BS in wildlife & fisheries ecology from Oklahoma State in 2002 and an MS in range and wildlife management from Texas A&M, Kingsville, in 2006.
NBCI is a project of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC) to elevate bobwhite quail recovery from an individual state-by-state proposition to a range-wide, policy-level leadership endeavor. The committee is comprised of representatives of state fish and wildlife agencies, academic research institutions and non-governmental conservation organizations. Headquartered at the University of Tennessee, NBCI is funded by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, two dozen state wildlife management agencies, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Southern Company. For more information, please visit www.bringbackbobwhites.org
Virginia is stepping up its part in the overall national wild bobwhite quail restoration effort with an agreement between two state agencies to target pine forests in the state’s six “bobwhite focus areas” to create habitat for bobwhites and other wildlife, while improving commercial timber value.
The Virginia Department of Forestry, an original member of the Virginia Quail Council, is assisting the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, a member of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI), to identify interested private, non-industrial forest landowners in the 15 counties that comprise the state’s six quail focus areas to embrace forestry best management practices conducive to bobwhites. The practices include both pre-commercial and commercial thinning of pine stands, planting of shortleaf pine seedlings and the use of an approved herbicide in controlling hardwood undergrowth. Approved landowners can earn up to $10,000 in cost sharing for their participation.
While many think of bobwhite quail in an “agricultural” setting, open pine stands, or “savannahs,” have historically been productive locations for bobwhites -- as well as rabbits, turkeys, deer and numerous other bird species. Thinning pine stands allows sunlight to reach the ground, which stimulates the growth of native vegetation quail need for food, raising their young and protection from predators. Shortleaf pine is a slow-growing species, so planting it helps keep the pine stand open longer, requiring less maintenance to preserve it as wildlife habitat.
“Most farms in Virginia have more timberland than open farmland,” explained Marc Puckett, the state’s quail coordinator and chair of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee. “With commodity crop prices at all-time highs, landowners are now even less likely to devote that agricultural space to bobwhites. But their woodlands do provide a management option.
“In addition, the management practices we’re supporting for quail in this project are actually good for timber health. So it’s a win for the landowner, a win for the timber and a win for wildlife. We’re fortunate to have a state forestry agency that recognizes and promotes these ideas. We hope the program will prove successful and develop long term support.”
Mike Black, forestry coordinator for the NBCI, enthusiastically endorses the Virginia effort, saying “There is no greater opportunity in the historic range of bobwhite quail for habitat restoration than the forested landscape, and reconnecting forests with quail is one of NBCI’s top priorities. We encourage state forestry entities in all 25 NBCI states to join in examining opportunities for wildlife habitat creation on both public and private forestlands in their respective states.”
Virginia’s bobwhite focus area counties where the landowner offer is valid include Bland, Wythe, Greensville, Southampton, Sussex, Culpeper, Greene, Madison, Orange, Rappahannock, Essex, King and Queen, King William, Halifax and Augusta.
The Virginia wildlife agency provides additional information about managing forests for wildlife at
While the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) laments the demise of Quail Unlimited, its director also expresses confidence that grassroots support of the national bobwhite restoration effort will continue to strengthen.
“QU has been an engaged, supportive and valued partner of the NBCI from the beginning,” said Don McKenzie, director of the 25-state effort to elevate bobwhite quail recovery from an individual state-by-state proposition to a range-wide, policy-level leadership endeavor. “Challenges that led to the end of the organization were unrelated to the urgent importance and continuing opportunities and needs of its quail conservation mission. And while it’s unfortunate they are closing their doors, there are other private conservation groups, including the Quail Coalition, Quail Forever and the Quail & Upland Wildlife Federation, involved in the 25-state NBCI effort that will not only welcome the dedicated efforts of the former QU members but also will continue to expand their respective roles and impact on quail restoration.
“A potent, sportsmen-energized quail conservation capability that is allied with the states and the NBCI is a necessity for bobwhite restoration success at the range-wide level.” McKenzie added. “But there is more than one way to achieve that capability. While we will simply have to wait and see how this development unfolds, the NBCI is very confident in the overall forward momentum of our bobwhite movement.”
As an example of the continuing importance of the bobwhite restoration vision and opportunity, McKenzie cited the recent agreement with the National Wild Turkey Federation, which has more than 1,400 chapters in the 25 NBCI states, to bring its considerable resources to the table in assisting states in the creation and maintenance of NBCI quail projects where turkeys will also benefit. “That’s the kind of grassroots teamwork and cross organizational support that bodes well for bobwhites,” said McKenzie.