Outdoor writer and Southeastern Outdoor Press Association member Josh Wolfe had this story regarding NBCI in yesterday's edition of "OUTDOORHUB," a daily outdoor newswire published by the Michigan-based Carbon Media Group.

Representatives of various groups show support for Georgia's new bobwhite initiative

SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. (Nov. 22, 2013) - Members of the Georgia Bobwhite Technical Team, representing 15 conservation and/or land management organizations, recently turned out in support of a Memorandum of Agreement at the Go Fish Education Center in Perry, GA as a continued commitment to the recovery of bobwhite quail and other early successional habitat dependent species, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division.

“The northern bobwhite quail is an iconic wildlife species being formally designated as the state’s Game Bird,” said DNR Commissioner Mark Williams.  “We are pleased that the partnering organizations that make up the Georgia Bobwhite Technical Team have formally recommitted to the conservation of this indicator species.”

All of the participating organizations are committed to the recovery of bobwhite quail and other species dependent on early successional habitat which is the vegetative community that occurs for several years after a soil disturbance (e.g., prescribed fire) and is comprised of annual and perennial plants. Participants include: the U.S. Forest Service, the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest; the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission; Georgia Association of Conservation Districts; Quail Forever; the Georgia Department of Natural Resources; the U.S. Army, Fort Stewart, Fort Gordon, and Fort Benning; the Farm Service Agency; the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural  Resources, University of Georgia; the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, the Georgia Forestry Commission; the Natural Resources Conservation Service; National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

In recent decades, quail in Georgia have experienced drastic population declines because of extensive land use changes resulting in a loss or degradation of early succession habitat. This is true not only for quail, but also for certain songbirds and many other wildlife species.  This decline has resulted in a reduction of quail hunters and wildlife associated recreation opportunities for Georgia and in the loss of many millions of dollars of economic revenue in rural Georgia communities. Similar declines are occurring across the South and are a priority concern for all southeastern state wildlife agencies.

In March 2002, the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Southeast Quail Study Group published the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, a 22-state recovery plan that establishes habitat and population goals by state and physiographic province for the restoration of bobwhite quail to their 1980 population level. This ultimately led to the formation of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee comprised of more than 600 wildlife biologists, researchers and managers focused on bobwhite restoration and management. 

The plan was revised in 2011 to become the national Bobwhite Conservation Initiative 2.0.  This plan sets habitat and bobwhite population goals and objectives for spatially explicit focal landscapes. These core areas are critical to restoration success within these landscapes because they support source populations from which bobwhites can quickly pioneer into restored, adjacent habitats. Georgia Wildlife Resources Division used this planning process to revise and refine the state’s Bobwhite Quail Initiative 2013–2023.  A total of 22 focal landscapes across Georgia’s Upper Coastal Plain were identified with the highest potential and lowest constraints for bobwhite restoration.  Successful implementation of the plan within these priority landscapes will restore approximately 24,000 wild quail coveys.

“The good news is that as a result of well-planned and intensified management programs, progress has been made and we have seen numerous bobwhite restoration success stories on private and public lands,” said Wildlife Resources Division Director Dan Forster.  “Only through collaborative efforts like the Bobwhite Technical Team will we be able to reach our conservation goals of more substantial habitat restoration for all species that depend on early successional habitat.”

For more information on the Georgia Bobwhite Technical Team or the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, call the Division’s Private Land Program office in Forsyth, Ga. at (478) 994-7583.

Bob Madison with the Spirit of Jefferson, an award-winning weekly newspaper based in Charles Town, WV, published this piece last month recalling the role of bobwhites in the family Thanksgiving celebrations of the past. 

Amid years of doom and gloom predictions for the bobwhite quail, we can see a bright light on the horizon. That bright light got a little brighter this fall as the Department and our partner Quail Forever began an effort to inventory quail numbers on several of our private land Quail Focus Areas (QFAs) for the first time. We compare what we find in the focus area to a similar area outside the focus area that is not being managed for quail by the landowners. The Departments’ ten year quail plan focuses our attention on these QFAs, where staff efforts and cost-share dollars are enhanced. Many of our QFAs were developed with the introduction of the Department’s quail plan in 2004 and have received our concentrated attention ever since.

Up to now only two focus areas in the entire state were inventorying bird numbers each fall with help from Quail Forever volunteers and Department staff. This year we partnered with Quail Forever volunteers to survey 3 additional focus areas around the state. Preliminary results of our October quail covey counts are coming across my desk this week. The proof that our concentrated efforts are the key to quail recovery have never been more evident.

The Knox County Quail Focus Area has been surveying quail numbers inside and adjacent to the focus area for 5 years. With this long-term survey they witnessed a yearly increase in quail numbers in the focus area until Snowmageddon hit at the end of January, 2011. Leaving a deep layer of snow and ice on the ground through February of that year, quail numbers inside and outside the QFA drastically dropped that year. Fast forward to 2013 which saw a 21% increase in quail numbers inside the QFA yet there has been a continued long-term decline in quail numbers surveyed outside the focus geography. This year’s surveys showed 5 times more birds in the focus area than outside.

The Carroll County Quail Focus Area began its first bird surveys with a spring whistle count and is just concluding their fall covey call count. There are 6 times more coveys this fall in the QFA than in the nearby unmanaged survey area.

The Scott County Quail Focus Area had a problem finding an unmanaged geography to survey; which may be a good thing? There were enough habitat improvements through USDA and Department programs that even the geography chosen for a control had numerous native grass field borders. Yet the numbers within the managed focus area were still 30% higher than the control.

The Stoddard County Quail Focus Area saw a 31% increase in quail numbers over last year and no birds were found on farms that had been mowed late in the summer.

The Cass County Quail Focus Area was surveyed for the first time last month and had an average of 2 more coveys for each of the four survey points in the QFA than in the unmanaged area.

Our best success for quail restoration appears to be in areas where a number of landowners work together in a concentrated area. The state’s quail population has declined to the point that individual landowners may not be successful in bringing quail back to a property. Or it can be difficult to sustain a quail population over the long-term. This is especially true when isolated quail habitat efforts are totally surrounded by inhospitable quail habitat and quail are uncommon on the landscape.