Blogs

Shell’s Covert: How Much Will Quail Cost Me in Future Timber Income? (Or … Balancing Timber Production & Wildlife Habitat)

Author’s note: Some of this BLOG is derived from a very recent article published in the Journal of Wildlife Management entitled: “Economic Tradeoffs of Managing for Timber Production or Wildlife Habitat.” The article was written by Phillip Davis, Ian Munn, James Henderson (Department of Forestry, Mississippi State University) and Bronson Strickland (Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University). Interpretations of the article and opinions included in this BLOG are mine alone.

A pine stand managed for bobwhites & grassland wildlife

Landowner – “So, if I manage as you say, by heavily thinning my loblolly pine timber, really opening it up, letting that sunlight in, and then using prescribed fire to manage for quail, what is it going to cost me down the road in future timber profit?”

Marc – “Dang it!” I think to myself, “I almost had him.”

In reality, I feel it is my obligation to let the landowners know, whether they ask or not, that there will be economic costs associated with pine timber management that heavily favors the quail side of things. It’s a fair question…that I don’t have a great answer for.

My response usually goes something like this: “Well, I can’t tell you down to the dollar what it will cost. First, you have to remember that initially you will get more money from the thinning because you are taking out more trees. Second, timber markets vary from year to year and it’s hard to say what products will be bringing 10 or 15 years down the road when you prepare to clear-cut. Third, there are “value added” aspects to managing timber for wildlife that it is hard to put a finger on the financial benefits of, but…my guess is anywhere from 10% to 25% of the future timber income.”

And it is a crystal ball “sort of” educated guess…just to be honest. In all fairness to me, if I could accurately predict timber markets, product preferences and prices 15 years out, I’d be in the timber business…and probably retired by now. There’s an old saying when it comes to money, “If you have to ask how much something costs, you can’t afford it.” Maybe managing timber for wildlife is no different, but I’d argue it is not a zero sum game, there are a range of options and you may be a landowner who can see benefits beyond dollars…that are, as the commercial says, “Priceless”…and for everything else there is a not-named-here-for-fear-of-being-seen-as-an-endorsement credit card.

In my opinion, no forester or wildlife biologist can tell you with 100% certainty what the future costs are in timber production if you choose to manage intensively for bobwhite quail. There are simply too many variables and too much can change over the life of a timber stand. You may have it figured to the last dollar and two days before you are ready to sell a category 4 hurricane makes it all moot. My advice to you is that if it is critical to know right down to the dollar how much future timber costs are associated with quail management, stick to growing timber. But if not, here are a few things to consider.

In the article I referenced in my opening note the authors wrote: “Maximizing timber production usually yields the highest land expectation value (LEV) return when compared to maximizing wildlife habitat, but improving wildlife habitat can result in higher hunting lease revenue to supplement foregone timber revenue.”

The authors of this paper used five basic models for evaluation: 1) timber maximization, 2) deer-timber compromise, 3) deer oriented, 4) quail-timber compromise and 5) quail maximized (my interpretation in layman’s terms) with “quail maximized” being the heaviest thinning. Many variables were incorporated into their models too numerous and complex to detail here. But all management scenarios were based on common forestry and wildlife management practices.

As expected, the timber maximization model produced the highest land expectation values (LEVs), but…all scenarios, including quail management, produced positive LEVs (profits). This means that even under a quail management scenario, the timber still made money over the cost to produce it (profit over the costs incurred to plant, spray, manage through time, etc.). The authors spelled this out by saying “Thus, a non-industrial private forest owner can generate an acceptable rate of return from timber harvesting while managing their forest for wildlife habitat.”

Their examination of compensatory hunting lease rates became a bit more complex. The term “compensatory” as it is applied in this study means how much more per acre would a landowner have to charge for hunting rights to offset the lost timber income from intensive wildlife management? One interesting finding that makes sense is that on the land that is best for growing trees (land having the highest potential for pine growth that foresters call site indexes), the opportunity cost for quail management was highest, and vice versa…the poorest pine sites, had the lowest opportunity costs for quail management.

What does this mean to a landowner? If you have large acreages with varying site indexes and are willing to compromise, on the best lands for pines…you could choose to grow pines intensively, and on the poorest lands for pines you could choose to manage for quail intensively.

Regarding hunting lease rates – the authors used $44.91 per hectare (about $18.00 per acre) as the maximum reasonable compensatory lease rate. They found existing lease rates for “Sixteenth Section Lands” (public lands leased to the highest bidder for hunting to benefit Mississippi public schools) in Mississippi to range from $1.69 / acre to as high as $37.80 / acre…essentially demonstrating that it would be possible to achieve the added $18.00 per acre to offset lost timber revenues under certain scenarios. Unfortunately, under the quail management scenario, the lowest reasonable compensatory rate was $20.74 / acre – meaning they did not find a way through hunting rights leasing to offset all lost timber income.

Whew…this all makes my head spin so let’s keep it simple.

Take home messages:
1) It is your choice as a landowner whether to manage intensively to maximize timber profit, or to maximize quail habitat, or manage somewhere in between.
2) There are professional foresters and wildlife biologists that can work together to help you achieve your goals.
3) Even intensive quail oriented timber management still generates a profit.
4) Land well managed for wildlife should bring a higher hunting lease rate than land not managed well for wildlife and these increases could help offset lost timber income.
5) If you own lands that have varying site indexes – you can choose to grow pine timber where it grows best and manage for wildlife where timber doesn’t do as well.

And, I’d like to say on a personal and professional level – forests are good things. Even a loblolly pine stand that is managed to maximize timber income still provides wildlife habitat on some levels. And thinning loblolly pine stands makes sense from every angle. If you follow standard forestry recommendations and then throw some prescribed fire in after thinning – it may not be perfect for quail, but it will be an improvement for wildlife…the glass will be half full, not half empty.
So this article was not meant to criticize those who choose to maximize timber production. It was intended to show that managing timber intensively for wildlife can still generate a profit and that there may be ways to offset some of the lost timber income.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

 

Bobwhite Roundtable: Top Tip for Finding Bobwhites to Hunt (… and Assessing Management Success)

Thomas V. Dailey, Ph.D.
NBCI Science Coordinator

A striking bobwhite phenomenon is their covey call in fall.  As sure as the approach of winter, broods and adults are re-organizing into coveys, and apparently this process is facilitated by pre-dawn communication. The calls are the basis for sophisticated biological assessments such as NBCI’s Coordinated Implementation Program, and for landowners and quail hunters to identify the presence and abundance of bobwhites. Check out several NBCI field videos on listening for the covey call on NBCI’s technical web site Quailcount.org, and on the NBCI YouTube channel (search on Bobwhites’ Koi-Lee). 

The past few years’ high quail numbers in much of the species’ range provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set a personal record, either for the most quail you’ve ever heard, or, if quail are scarce in your area, to measure, via sound, if they have reappeared.  In times of abundance and mild weather some bobwhites move from habitat strongholds to marginal habitat, so you might be pleasantly surprised by their reappearance.

Bobwhites roost during the mild weather of fall in herbaceous vegetation in open landscapes (grass, weeds, crop fields, etc.), rather than among shrubs, briars, fence rows and woods.  Perhaps these open-landscape nocturnal roost sites are selected to avoid raptor perches in trees and mammalian travel paths along habitat edges. Considering that bobwhites spend more of their life in nocturnal roost habitat than in any other single activity, this habitat is important to investigate.

A best (research) practice is to find, flush and count quail in the coveys you hear calling.  Flushing calling coveys increases your identification of roosting habitat, accuracy of identifying the locations of calling coveys, and accuracy of total quail, via calculation of actual average covey size.  Coveys often move away from roosts soon after calling, so try to flush them soon after sunrise. 

Among wildlife vocalizations, bobwhites are unique because their calling in fall is predictably 15-40 minutes before sunrise. This “koi lee” sounding call likely facilitates the formation of coveys from broods. Calling is best heard on mornings when barometric pressure is high, wind speed is low, and there are few clouds.  You can hear calling quail about 547 yards away, or an area around you of 194 acres. 

If you hear one covey calling, research indicates there could be another covey present, and you could double your observation to an estimated two coveys on 194 acres.  A rule-of-thumb average covey size is 12 quail, which translates to an estimated 1 quail per 8 acres.  In the better quail habitat areas, biologists expect 1 quail per 2 to 4 acres. 

If bobwhites are scarce in your area, here’s a tip—during the pre-sunrise listening period play the fall covey call with your smartphone and a Bluetooth speaker. When quail are scarce this can be the catalyst for a wild covey to respond. 

Bobwhite biologists have conducted considerable research to understand fall bobwhite calling behavior.  NBCI’s new online version of the National Quail Symposium Proceedings has many of these study reports—search on “covey calling.”  Several NBCI partners have elaborate protocol on the technique–search the internet for “covey calling” or check these websites:
Tall Timbers Research Station, http://talltimbers.org/how-many-bobwhite-coveys-are-there/  

University of Missouri http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G9433.

Texas A&M University https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Bn2p8sCTW4

All bobwhite enthusiasts should take advantage of this unique opportunity to better understand our favorite bird.  As said by the biologist in the Koi-Lee YouTube about hearing fall coveys, “It doesn’t get a whole lot more exciting.”

Sunlight, Fire & Quail: Prep for Prescribed Burning with a PLAN

Are you a landowner that has prescribed burning to be completed in the upcoming months? If so, you should already be in the planning stages for what needs to be done. And one of the most important items in your toolbox is a plan of operations that outlines how, when and where the burn will take place.

You should have your plan written ahead of burning season to take advantage of good burning weather conditions whenever they occur. The plan can be as simple or as complex as you want, but there are some important items that should be in every plan. (For even more information about what should go in a prescribed fire plan for your specific state, you should contact the state forestry or fire agency at http://stateforesters.org/regional-state.)

Backing fire technique, as illustrated in the U.S. Forest Service’s “A Guide for Prescribed Fire in Southern Forests.” To see the guide, click on the illustration.

If you have plans to conduct a prescribe burn this burning season, contact your local forestry agency as soon as possible to get on their list for firebreak installation. If you’re not comfortable with conducting your own burn, or you don’t have a contractor, ask if they assist landowners in conducting prescribed burns. If so, get on that list too. Just remember, they may not always be able to get to everyone that requests assistance because of varying circumstances, i.e., weather, number of requests, wildfire danger, etc. If the local forestry agency doesn’t assist with burning or they have a large backlog of requests, they should have a list of contractors who conduct prescribed burning in your area.

Another beneficial item in the toolbox is a map of the area to be burned. It should show where firebreaks should be installed, along with identifying any natural firebreaks that may be in the burn area. A map should also show any sensitive areas and/or areas such as improved areas, areas of young reproduction, etc. that you want excluded from fire. The map should also indicate the desired wind direction for conducting the prescribed burn, where the fire should be ignited, control areas, etc.

The fire weather forecast is your best friend as it comes closer to the time for conducting any prescribed fires because the weather doesn’t always cooperate. Plans may be to burn on a certain day, but the fire weather forecast may not be the best on that day, so burn managers and landowners have to be flexible with their calendar. Give Prescribed Burning Your FIRST Priority When Weather Conditions Are Favorable.

Some states also require notification be given when conducting a prescribed burn and a permit number issued. It’s always a good idea to notify the authorities when planning a prescribed burn, regardless.

When burning for bobwhites and other wildlife, prescribed burns should be carried out on a more frequent basis than when burning for other purposes (preferably every TWO years and no more than three years between fires). Burning on a 4-5 year rotation WILL NOT maintain bobwhite habitat. Burn units should also be smaller (a goal should be 50 acres or less) with adjacent areas of approximately the same size being left unburned. Burning large unbroken areas at one time leaves large areas with no escape cover for bobwhites. Having a mix of smaller burned and unburned areas within a stand or forest provides plenty of escape cover. Unburned areas should be close enough to burned areas for short fliers like bobwhites.

Remember, prescribed fire is one of the most important tools, that we, as landowners and land managers, have in managing and maintaining the habitat that we want and that bob requires. The other, in my opinion, is the paint gun for marking the trees that we either want to leave or remove from the forest. But that is for another time.

 

Happy Burning!

Prescribed Burn Plan Form, courtesy of the Georgia Forestry Commission

Shell’s Covert: Much More Than a Quail Team

This month’s BLOG is not only late – it is short and to the point.

Click on the cover to read the document.

I am proud of our Private Lands Wildlife Biologist team. We have become known as the “Quail team” but this group of biologists is so much more than that. Their capabilities have grown to include a wide array of habitat management skills across a wide range of ecosystems. And they continue to improve and broaden their capabilities. It is hard to believe they have been working with us for almost 8 years now. Many of them are playing key roles in the quail world.

Most recent examples include leading a major marketing strategy for the Communications Subcommittee of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee, and playing key roles in the design of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Working Lands for Wildlife Program’s new Cattle and Quail Initiative for Virginia – providing a template for many other states involved. They called themselves the B.I.G. Team – for Bobwhites in Grasslands. The link provided with this BLOG will take you to their latest edition of the Bobwhite Bulletin. It speaks for itself. We hope you enjoy it.

Happy fall!!

Shell’s Covert: Quail Science Synthesized

This year our team was lucky enough to be able to attend the Quail 8 Symposium in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was Quail Eight Logoheld in conjunction with the annual meeting of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee and heavily supported by the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative,  the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (a nice job to all involved!). The Quail Symposium Series is held only once every 5 years. It is said that the bobwhite quail is one of the most studied animals in the annals of wildlife science. I don’t know how to verify that, but in this year’s symposium series there are 94 manuscripts from 72 authors. Most of the general public and most quail hunters do not know about all this work. But it is the job of project leaders like me all across the bobwhite’s range to read, participate and understand the latest in quail science and get it to you.

Translocating Wild Quail

I am often asked why we do not actively translocate bobwhite quail like we have done with turkeys, deer, bears and other species to speed up re-population efforts. The truth is we have tried it here in Virginia back in the late 1990s. And it has been tried in multiple states with varying degrees of success (or failure in many cases). Over a 50- year period about 900 wild turkeys were relocated in Virginia. This took a lot of work and it was successful in many cases.

One of the first differences between quail and turkeys is that there were millions of acres of turkey habitat into which to transport turkeys. Another big difference shown by modern research is that it takes far more quail to engender a response than it does turkeys, or deer, or bears. The synthesis of the best information available today states that in order to successfully repopulate an area with quail: 1) the area must be at least 1,500 acres of very good quail habitat; 2) target bobwhite population at the end of the translocation period should be about 800 quail. This is accomplished by translocation of 100 wild quail per year for 3 years and then hoping for good reproduction from those translocated individuals, 3) some wild quail should be present on the site before any translocation occurs, 4) and source populations should be disease free and obtained from as close a source as possible (Martin et.al – 2017).

There is more, but I hope this illustrates that translocating wild quail effectively will be an intense process that will only work well in select settings. We are exploring the possibilities in Virginia, and it is in our future, but we will do it right or not at all.

Population Assessment

Many landowners struggle with assessing their quail populations. Traditionally, some form of June whistling male counts are used to track trends. In the last decade the practice of using fall morning covey counts became the gold standard. This method allowed a very solid assessment just prior to hunting season, and could be used to adjust harvest levels on individual properties.

The fall method tends to be more time and labor intensive than June whistle counts. A study was conducted to assess whether June whistling male counts could be correlated to fall density (Sisson and Terhune. 2017). The study showed that: “Peak number of males heard in spring and number of coveys heard in autumn were strongly correlated for all points combined; indicating that spring whistle counts are a reliable tool for assessing bobwhite relative abundance on sites where autumn covey counts are precluded or the information is needed before autumn.”

Landowners who are interested in learning how to do June call counts on their properties should contact us. It is fairly simple and we can talk you through it.

Finding Quail in the Field

One often hears quail hunters lamenting how tough it is to find quail, even in areas where they know there are quail. A study using radio-collared quail coveys, led by Tall Timbers Research Station, showed that, on average, good pointing dogs only cover enough area within a given property to have a chance of detecting about 52% of available coveys (Terhune et al. 2017). The overall probability of a dog finding a covey is about 38%. I interpret this to mean hunters should more thoroughly cover the grounds they hunt, particularly when they believe “quail should be there.”

I understand to train and keep a dog in birds now-a-days often means hunting pen-raised quail. But a study conducted in Kentucky suggests that when hunters have become accustomed to hunting pen-raised quail, their expectations when hunting wild quail may be unrealistic (Orange et al. 2017). Using radioed wild coveys and pen-raised coveys on public lands, it was demonstrated that hunters found only 29% percent of wild coveys. And they were 8.6 times more likely to find pen-raised coveys. This suggests that hunters pursuing wild quail must be educated about the differences in detection rates and expectations should be realistic to maintain support for wild quail restoration on public hunting lands.

Eye Worms

That’s me, far right, in back

And what about eye worms? No, they do not look like eyes, but they are often found in a quail’s eyes, especially in Texas. Over the last few years there has been a great deal of publicity surrounding eye worms being detected at high levels in Texas quail. Our quail hunters often asked me about eye worms in Virginia’s quail, so we reached out to Dr. Dale Rollins and his team in Texas to help us examine some Virginia quail. Their study, surprisingly, did find some eye worms in Virginia’s quail (Kubečka et al. 2017). Eye worms were detected at rates of 59.1% in Texas, 52.1% in Oklahoma, 14.8% in Virginia (4 out of 27 submitted – low sample size) and 1.6% in Alabama. They were non-existent in other states tested. There were also many more eye worms per quail in Texas. Of the 4 that had eye worms in Virginia, only 1 or 2 worms were detected, where as many 109 were detected in one Texas quail. While at Quail 8, Dr. Rollins team (THANKS!) gave us a hands-on class in how to examine quail for eye worms and we will be examining about 250 more heads collected by hunters here last year But currently we do not believe eye worms are an issue in Virginia. Texas is still working on the situation there.

… just some of what we learned at Quail 8 while working 12 to 14 hour days on behalf of bobwhites.

A session at Quail 8

Sources all came from this year’s Quail 8 Proceedings.

  1. Martin, R. Applegate, T. Dailey, M. Downey, B. Emmerich, F. Hernández, M. McConnell, K. Reyna, R. Ruzicka, and T. Terhune, II. 2017. Translocation as a population restoration technique for northern bobwhites: a review and synthesis.
  2. Clay Sisson and Theron Terhune, II. 2017. Use of spring whistle counts to predict northern bobwhite relative abundance.
  3. Terhune, II, D. McGrath, S. Wood, and J. Martin. 2017. Hunter-Covey interactions using pointing bird dogs.
  4. Orange, J. Yeiser, D. Baxley, J. Morgan, and B. Robinson. 2017. Evaluating hunting success of pen-reared and wild northern bobwhite in a reclaimed Kentucky mineland.
  5. Kubečka, A. Bruno, and D. Rollins. 2017. Geographic survey of Oxyspirura petrowi among wild northern bobwhite in the United States.