Part 1 of 2
President George W. Bush stood on a farm in southern Minnesota in August 2004 to announce a new agriculture conservation practice specifically designed for bobwhites and grassland birds. This unprecedented presidential attention to bobwhite conservation culminated a years-long effort to raise the game for restoring a treasured species in long-term decline.
For decades, bobwhite conservation agencies, institutions and organizations conducted research and small-scale quail projects independently and in relative isolation. The result was a vast body of scientific knowledge and management experience virtually unmatched in the history of wildlife conservation. Over those same decades, range-wide bobwhite populations declined continuously.
Biological and management expertise are essential requisites to wildlife conservation. Clearly, however, such expertise is not enough, by itself, to restore quail. Not until the community of bobwhite experts gathered from their separated positions across the Southeast to organize, collaborate and strategize did their wealth of knowledge and expertise begin to gain conservation traction.
Quail managers have demonstrated repeatedly that we know how to restore and manage quality habitat to produce more birds on just about any specific piece of land. Meanwhile, millions of acres of habitat have slowly, subtly been degraded by changing human uses of land in dozens of states. The resulting landscape now is largely unfriendly for bobwhites and a multitude of other grassland birds.
Lee and Anne Ballard own 328 acres in Williamsburg County, South Carolina. Historically, the property was farmed for cotton before Mr. Ballard purchased it in1993. After 1989’s Hurricane Hugo the majority of the timber was cut leaving sparse trees throughout the tract. From 1993-1995 there were 12-15 northern bobwhite coveys and then the number of coveys decreased markedly as plant succession progressed. In 2000, Mr. Ballard retired and began managing the property for wildlife, especially quail. After 2001 coveys again began increasing to 12-15 coveys across the property.
Mr. and Mrs. Ballard have been avid hunters and are wildlife enthusiasts so they understand the importance of managing habitat for wildlife. In 2005 they enrolled 33 acres of the property’s cropland into the Conservation Reserve Program’s (CRP) CP33 Upland Quail Buffers. These field borders have provided valuable nesting habitat and cover on field edges. Mr. Ballard has found up to three different brood coveys in one buffer. Only one year after the installation of field borders three times as many quail were reported calling in these areas during the annual quail call counts.
David Sapp moved back to the family farm in Mitchell County, Georgia in the 1990’s and soon found that the quail he enjoyed hunting as a young man had all but moved out.
In 2005, David enrolled portions of the crop fields on the farm in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). He installed field borders and fallowed dry corners of irrigated crop fields through CP33, a program to provide Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds. He enrolled a total of 10.0 acres in the program and immediately began planting native grasses and legumes to bring along the habitat.
In addition to CRP, he applied for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP): Sustainable Forest and Wildlife Management. Through this program, David was awarded funds to offset the cost associated with prescribed burning and to serve as an incentive in thinning pine stands found on the farm.
James Hamilton and his stepfather, Harland Cole, own a small, 18-acre farm in the intensively farmed portion of east central Indiana. In recent years, they had noticed a few quail hanging on in small pockets of habitat along a nearby stream corridor, but none seemed to be present on their farm.
James and Harland had always wanted to create wildlife habitat on their farm so they could see more wildlife and have a place to hunt. So, James and Harland contacted their Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife (IDFW) District Wildlife Biologist for advice and guidance on practices and programs that could help make their wildlife goals a reality.
Dr. Alan Maxwell remembers as a young boy hunting with his father and being able to find multiple coveys of bobwhites on his family’s 653-acre farm in Mitchell County Georgia. He sometimes reminisces about the open understory habitat of the longleaf pine forests, which once surrounded his childhood home. Dr. Maxwell noticed a decline in the quail population in the 1960’s coinciding with the conversion of the longleaf forests to row crop agriculture.