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Local Conservationists Are Our Foundation

Local-level quail conservationists are the foundation of the movement to restore bobwhites.  No matter how tall the states may stand in pursuit of their quail stewardship duty, the states cannot succeed without the full partnership of a vigorous grassroots support base.  

 

A central theme of the NBCI and of our strategy for restoring bobwhites range-wide might now be coming into focus.  I call it the NBCI “pyramid strategy,” which aims to address head-on the societal reality that bobwhite restoration has less to do with science and technology than it does with people, politics and money.  One of the greatest strengths of bobwhite conservation is we are loaded with brilliant scientists and managers who have amassed an impressive record of knowledge and experience about quail biology and management.  Conversely, our weakness is our tepid organizational skills to make effective use of all the people who are crucial to our success.  The NBCI aims to begin fixing this weakness, by catalyzing a “quail machine,” of people who collaborate synergistically among all three essential levels – local, state and national.

 

U.S. Agricultural Policy is Key to Bobwhite Revival

Almost every quail hunter already realizes the biggest problem with bobwhites – clean farming practices.  Modern, weed-free, fencerow-to-fencerow, high-intensity production leaves little habitat for most grassland birds.  Certainly, agriculture is not the only force that has changed the landscape in ways inhospitable to quail, but it probably has the largest impact.

Consider:  across the core bobwhite range there are roughly 210 million acres of cropland, 120 million acres of pasture/hay, and 35 million acres of plantation pine.  Decades ago, this 365 million acres of production land was inherently suitable for bobwhites. No longer.

Cultivated cropland now is so free of weeds and idle areas as to no longer accommodate quail.  Pasture and hay land has been so “improved” with aggressive, exotic forage grasses that they have no practical value to quail.  Dense, unburned pine plantations offer little at ground level but a thick layer of needles.

Celebrating the Life of a Grand Idea

As Americans we are routinely criticized for using more than our share of the world’s resources, but we are rarely praised for shouldering more than our share of the world’s burdens. A nation can never be perfect, as all nations are composed of imperfect individuals. Differences exist between countries, states, friends, families and neighbors, yet occasionally something reminds us we have more in common, than not.

I remember where I was on 9/11. Always will.  And I will remember that, in spite of the sadness of that event, it galvanized our nation like no other occurrence in my lifetime. I believe a death is nothing to celebrate, so today I would say I am celebrating life – the life of a grand idea expressed by our founding Fathers nearly 235 years ago. Their belief in the inalienable rights of all humans on planet earth. And though we have not always lived up to the idea as we should have, America remains the “light on the hill,” the beacon for freedom that our forefather’s envisioned.

 

Without the States We Are Nothing…

Even as this post aims to highlight the central importance of the states to the future prospects for restoring bobwhites, our thoughts and prayers go out to those in many of those states – including Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Mississippi and Arkansas — who have lost family members or friends, or have seen their or their neighbors’ homes and businesses destroyed during waves of violent weather this spring. In fact, according to AP today, 328 people across those seven states died just last week in the nation’s deadliest tornado outbreak since the Great Depression. While my family has spent a lot of time in our own “fraidy hole” ducking multiple close tornadoes in central Arkansas, the impact personally has otherwise been limited. Rising waters forced the evacuation of my office and equipment storage areas. My brother watched helplessly as a giant tornado gutted his hometown of Tuscaloosa.  So many other others have not been as fortunate. Let’s all keep those folks in our thoughts.– Don

Bobwhites are the legal authority and responsibility of the state wildlife agencies.  That’s just the way it is for resident (non-migratory) species of wildlife.  The federal government has no formal role or responsibility … unless bobwhites get listed under the Endangered Species Act.  No one wants to go there.   

The NBCI started out in 2002 as a strategic plan of the states, but has become much more.  The plan started the ball rolling in earnest; since then, collaborations have made it snowball to the national level. 

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‘Net Gain’ is the Holy Grail for Quail

Our quest to restore bobwhites to huntable levels across much of their historic range—by restoring suitable habitats on scores of millions of acres—is such a daunting task it’s hard to know where or how to begin.  It helps me to break such monumental tasks into strategic pieces.

#1 Stop the Bleeding

The duck guys figured it out first. At a landscape scale, their wetland restorations would not make much difference in duck populations if ongoing wetland losses continued to exceed wetland gains. Thus arose the concept of “no net loss/net gain,” providing a framework for strategic thinking and action under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.

A net gain of wetland habitat could not be achieved until wetland losses were dramatically reduced. Put another way, stemming wetland losses was just as important to reaching the goals of the Waterfowl Plan as fostering wetland restoration.  Both sides of the equation are vital. In this respect, bobwhites are just like ducks.

Every acre that is planted or re-planted to unsuitable habitat makes our quail restoration job harder.  Consider a popular suite of invasive, exotic, sod-forming forage grasses that render scores of millions of acres unsuitable to bobwhites across most of the species’ range.  Still today, Bermuda grass, tall fescue, old-world bluestems, bahia grass, etc. are being planted on open lands at a rate far exceeding the rate at which quail conservationists can restore native grassland habitats.  Just because quail managers are expert at restoring habitats does not mean we are gaining; bobwhites still are suffering a “net loss.”