Doing What Needs Doing

It’s more important to do what needs doing, rather than just doing what’s easy.

— Dr. Guy Baldassarre, undergraduate professor/mentor at Auburn, reacting to one of my research project ideas.

 

I think about this life lesson from one of my most influential college professors almost every day.  The NBCI definitely is about something that needs doing; and it most certainly is not easy. So it fits Baldassarre’s maxim. A basic purpose of the NBCI is to help coalesce myriad capable but independent partners into a critical mass of organized, strategic action, capable of tackling important but heretofore unsolvable quail conservation problems – to do whatneeds doing. 

The latest big problem the NBCI and its National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC) brain trust are working to solve is how to help states design and implement quail/grassland bird focus areas more effectively, consistently and successfully. Restoring quail to the landscape is like eating elephants: one bite at a time. Thus, focus areas have been a standard implementation prescription of the NBCI from the beginning, the tactical endpoints (bites) for strategic action of state step-down plans. Why this emphasis on focus areas? Three reasons:  (1) widespread quail restoration is a long-term challenge saddled with short-term expectations, attention spans and budget cycles; (2) we cannot possibly fix entire states at once; and (3) the clock is ticking for us to demonstrate short-term successes that prove the NBCI concept, instill hope and secure perseverance. 

However, we all have seen recent examples of quail focus areas that weren’t “successful.” I recently developed the slide at right to highlight my perception of some pitfalls in our NBCI McKenzie's Slide on focus area track record. In some cases, failure to meet goals is due to factors beyond our control, such as extreme weather. In other cases, no goals were ever established; the design of the area was inadequate; implementation fell short; or inadequate monitoring prevented documentation of what might have been a success story. 

For example, a recent survey conducted by NBCI Science Coordinator Tom Dailey found some pretty good news:  52% (13 of 25) of NBCI states had active quail focus areas in 2010.  However, the focus areas were very diverse in size (e.g., a few hundred to 2.3 million acres) and other key design parameters, impeding meaningful comparison, compilation and conclusions. More problematic is that of the 182 total quail focus areas in 2010, only 79 areas were subjected to any measures of population response; and only 45 of those measures were statistically valid.

We have to do better.  We have little hope of achieving, much less demonstrating, widespread quail successes if we cannot do a better job of setting ourselves up to succeed. This is a good time to step back, and work together to do focus areas right. 

At the 2011 NBTC annual meeting in Florida, the Research Subcommittee formed an Ad Hoc Monitoring Subcommittee to tackle a couple of these key focus area problems. This small, diverse group is headed by Kentucky’s John Morgan, the NBCI’s Tom Dailey, and Research Subcommittee Chair Theron Terhune. The group also includes other representatives of states, the NBCI, research institutions, Partners in Flight, joint ventures and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The initial charges for this group are to develop (1) standard monitoring techniques that all states could agree on and begin to adopt for quail/grassland bird focus areas, and (2) a “model” blueprint to promote consistency in designing and implementing successful focus areas. 

The Ad Hoc group met in Kentucky for three intense days in May to brainstorm and begin consolidating its ideas. The group has been refining its recommendations over the weeks since, and will bring its draft of standard focus area monitoring protocols to the upcoming NBTC annual meeting in Abilene, TX in August, for review, discussion and hopefully approval by the collected state quail coordinators. At that same meeting, the group then will draw upon the collective expertise among all the state quail coordinators to constructing a model blueprint for successful focus areas.

The NBCI strives to strike a constructive balance that promotes greater accomplishment through collaboration and unity, without encroaching on the independence of states and all the other key NBCI partners. The ongoing efforts of the NBTC’s Ad Hoc Monitoring Subcommittee represent very real progress by a diverse group representing the array of stakeholders in quail and grassland bird restoration, for the benefit of all of us. This is an ideal example of how I think we need to do more quail business. With this kind of unprecedented progress on a difficult and long-overdue but important set of tasks, the NBTC and NBCI are doing what needs doing, rather than just what is easy.

 

Seeking Quail Leadership… And Finding the Latest Example in Texas

Nature abhors a vacuum.

            –Ancient proverb, variously attributed to Aristotle, Rabelais, Descartes or Spinoza

I frequently assert the need for greater leadership in the NBCI’s quest to restore bobwhites.  But leadership is much easier to invoke than to exercise.  Why do we need leadership for quail?  And what does it really mean?  Why we need leadership is easy:  (1) to make things happen, such as by prioritizing and allocating resources, and (2) to prevent vacuums that can have unpredictable consequences. 

 Quail Leadership is Complex

What quail leadership means is more complex.  I envision it arising from all levels and myriad sources, the more the better.  But with the legal and political realities of quail conservation in the U.S., some sources of leadership are more crucial than others.  In the end, bobwhites are the legal authority and stewardship responsibility of the states.  Thus, state leadership—or lack of it—trumps all other sources, in my view.

Texas quail populations are in a dramatic slump, which has hit the state’s hunters and landowners hard.  Most of the rest of the bobwhite states are in the same boat, but their slide was gradual, hardly noticeable; Texas’ populations went bust quickly, painfully.  Most biologists generally expect Texas’ bobwhites to rebound with a couple consecutive wetter years, at least in areas of extensive good habitat.  Nonetheless, the drastic bust created an unfamiliar sense of urgency among diverse Texas quail enthusiasts, many of whom began energetically seeking causes, remedies and immediate actions. 

The resulting scramble has complicated the Texas quail conservation scene over the last couple years.  But there is a notable bright side:  numerous Texas quailophiles have become energized and active, maybe more than ever.  The demonstration of energy and passion by professionals and citizen conservationists is inspiring.  It would be difficult for any other quail state to muster the people, institutions, and organizations that are working right now to help Texas quail. 

 TPWD Stands Up

But the most crucial element of the state’s quail leadership was caught off guard, both by the problem and the uprising.  The resulting vacuum temporarily enabled a disorganized crisis atmosphere.  New high-profile research institutes arose seemingly overnight, pursuing various purposeful and cultural quail management solutions.  Others invested heavily in basic research on hypotheses for observed phenomena that don’t seem to fit traditional paradigms.  Outdoor writers and hunters called loudly for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to shorten or even close hunting seasons, and cut bag limits – to do something, anything, whether it would help or not.  Across the board, these quail enthusiasts sought unifying leadership.

At the height of the cacophony—arguably because of it—TPWD stood up, to begin exerting the needed and desired authoritative leadership.  This ongoing process and its outcomes could prove to be illuminating. 

 Science Meeting & Summit

The Department convened a quail science meeting in March, inviting a handful of prominent quail research authorities, including NBCI Science Coordinator, Tom Dailey.  The aim was to help TPWD evaluate the state of its quail data, determine if conservative regulations could help populations, and make recommendations on best next steps for TPWD.  The science advisors concluded (1) conservative regulations would make no significant difference in quail populations at large scales, and (2) aggressively implementing quail habitat focus areas in collaboration with joint venture partnerships, to meet NBCI population objectives, would be the soundest immediate course of action.

Following the science review, TPWD leadership immediately convened in early June the first joint meeting of its two key stakeholder groups – the Upland Game Bird Advisory Slide from McKenzie's Texas PresentationCommittee and the Quail Roundtable.  This meeting brought together representatives of all the quail horsepower statewide, including nearly two dozen separate organizations and agencies.  The day-long summit was moderated by TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith, with his commission, deputy, wildlife chief, statewide quail coordinator and numerous other TPWD biologists engaged.  The purpose was to present the results of the science team’s review, lay out TPWD’s preferred course of action (keep regulations the same, but aggressively implement quail focus areas with monitoring), and give everyone a chance to have their say.

 My presentation at the summit included this text slide, with a theme of the need for sustained assertive leadership at all levels—national, state and local— with constructive collaboration up and down among all levels.  But for quail, the authoritative leadership must be centered with the state agency—with TPWD for Texas quail.  Without the states in the lead, I am convinced no amount of local or national activity has much chance to solve a statewide quail problem.

I left Texas gratified to have witnessed and participated in an influential demonstration of much-needed state leadership for quail.  Follow-through is the next key, of course, but the commitment I detected from TPWD leaders gives me hope the state has climbed in the saddle to stay for a while.  Just as important, I perceived the state’s vital partners standing ready to pitch in to help the collective cause in their various own ways.  That resulting collaborative spirit gives me renewed hope for Texas, and could offer a useful model for others.

Simplicity: Sometimes It Isn’t So Simple

I have been advised many times to keep the NBCI complexity behind the curtain.  Such advice typically follows a showing of my infamous “NBCI octopus graphic,” a clumsy attempt to schematically illustrate the byzantine organizational structure of the national NBCI community.  I get it.  Even though there are very important differences between the NBCI strategic plan, the NBCI staff, the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC), the NBCI Management Board, the NBCI’s national operational center at the University of Tennessee, etc., it is simpler to merely call it all “the NBCI.”  However, simple is not always the appropriate, or most accurate, answer. 

 Bear with me for a quick peek behind the curtain. 

The NBTC is the state-led, range-wide technical body that provides expertise and leadership for wild bobwhite restoration.  The NBTC created the NBCI, the unified range-wide, science- and habitat-based restoration initiative for wild bobwhites.  The NBCI reflects the scientific consensus of the NBTC that the root cause of widespread, long-term population declines is landscape-scale habitat loss and degradation.  Yet, the interests, expertise and activities of the NBTC are broader than its habitat-based initiative.  That is why the NBTC has not already been renamed the “NBCI Technical Committee” – the NBCI is an initiative of the NBTC, not the other way around. 

The NBCI website (www.bringbackbobwhites.org), or BBB as we call it, combines the NBTC and NBCI web presence.  It deliberately has been hiding the complexity while targeting our messages and information predominantly to our top priority – NBCI-related habitat restoration and management efforts – to focus attention and resources on the consensus highest priority conservation needs. 

That exclusive focus, however, is inconsistent with the broader reality of the NBTC’s expertise and activities, and with the NBTC Steering Committee’s desire that its website become “bobwhite central.”   Just as oversimplification of complex national political issues does not foster better public understanding or improved federal policies, oversimplifying “the NBCI” and its website incurs tradeoffs.  BBB cannot be the one-stop website for all legitimate information on wild bobwhite biology, ecology and management if it only provides information on NBCI-related habitat implementation activities. 

The entire NBCI community supports and welcomes all legitimate scientific research on the biology, ecology and management of wild bobwhites, in the quest for knowledge and improved conservation abilities.  And because the NBCI is a science-based initiative (by definition, it follows the state of the science), research on topics that may not be a consensus conservation priority today still adds value today, and could even become established and influential as a priority later. 

This all is a long way of explaining why substantive changes are coming to the NBCI website.  We are in the process of broadening the scope of the information we post and archive about legitimate research on, and management of, wild bobwhites to be much more inclusive.  Some of this change will become evident immediately; other structural changes to the website will occur in coming weeks or months.  In the end, BBB will become a more-comprehensive, one-stop source for information about wild bobwhites.

Strengths & Limitations

STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS

 

Man’s got to know his limitations…

–Clint Eastwood, Magnum Force, 1973

 

The eastern states’ wild bobwhites have been declining for years, while the western states were riding high. No longer; now we’re all suffering together.

The current ebb in western wild quail populations serves a purpose by raising the public profile of the plight of bobwhites, not just in Texas and Oklahoma, but across the country. Widespread attention to the overall bobwhite problem is long overdue, but the acute concerns about western quail are shining a brighter light on questions about what, if anything, to do differently.

At a recent wildlife convention, a flyer for a seminar entitled “Extreme White-tail Management” caught my attention. Even as I pondered the state of contemporary deer management, I began to wonder if the same concept might – or already does – apply to bobwhites. Such thinking has helped me better frame and clarify the NBCI’s national leadership role in bobwhite conservation, including the current western quail situation.

Please allow me to provide brief context for bobwhite conservation and the NBCI. The state fish and wildlife agencies have the legal authority and stewardship responsibility for wild quail in their respective states. This authority is grounded in the Public Trust Doctrine of wildlife management in North America, which holds that wildlife resources are owned by no one, but are held in trust by government for the benefit of present and future generations of the people.  The details of implementation differ among states, but the core theme is the same.

From that doctrine arises the “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation” and its seven primary tenets:

  • Wildlife as Public Trust Resources
  • Elimination of Markets for Game
  • Allocation of Wildlife by Law
  • Wildlife Should Only be Killed for a Legitimate Purpose
  • Wildlife Are Considered an International Resource
  • Science is the Proper Tool for Discharge of Wildlife Policy
  • Democracy of Hunting (i.e. hunting opportunity for all)

The NBCI is the 25-state, unified strategic initiative for wild quail restoration, the first-ever collective effort by states to tackle such a large regional challenge for a resident game bird. As an initiative originating from the states, the NBCI is solidly grounded in state authorities – and limitations – as well as the North American Model that generally guides states’ wildlife conservation philosophy and actions. For example, the NBCI vision is to restore wild quail at a landscape scale across its range, so it is once again an abundant public resource (tenet 1) that is widely available (tenet 7) for regulated public hunting (tenet 4).

Further, the NBCI is built on a foundation of science (tenet 6) which, fortunately, is exceptionally broad and deep for bobwhites. The scientific consensus is that – summarized across the species’ range – landscape-scale habitat degradation over decades is the root of the long-term population decline. Thus, the NBCI is designed and geared to address the range-wide bobwhite problem at its source – by instigating large-scale, strategic habitat restoration on croplands, grazing lands, forest lands, mining lands, etc. Habitat restoration is long-term, tedious and frustrating work, constrained by scale, economics, land ownership patterns, and perpetually inadequate budgets and personnel. If and when the scientific consensus changes regarding the big picture of bobwhite ecology and limiting factors, the NBCI will adapt and evolve appropriately.

The NBCI’s state-based authority and structure are sources of the Initiative’s strengths, as well as its limitations. The core strength of the NBCI’s 25-state alliance and partnerships is the potential power of so many conservation allies to eventually catalyze range-wide positive impacts. No other approach has such large potential. The basic limitation of the NBCI’s state foundation is that state wildlife agencies, like every bureaucracy in the history of the world, can be cumbersome and conservative entities that understandably may try the patience of those seeking immediate and bold action. State agencies must answer to diverse publics with diverse interests, and generally must operate within political, professional and scientific conservation standards that consider societal tolerances and multiple resource needs.

Some private entrepreneurs who love bobwhite hunting are eager to do more, faster. Who among us cannot appreciate that desire?  With fewer financial, legal, political, societal or geographic scale constraints than the states and the NBCI, substantial private money is being invested in bobwhite research, management practices and propagation that stretch the limits of traditional public trust-based conservation norms. In the process, new scientific knowledge about bobwhite biology certainly will be acquired.

The NBCI supports scientific inquiry, and values new scientific knowledge about bobwhites. Some of the privately funded research underway may illuminate non-habitat factors that could limit certain populations in certain places, and perhaps could even offer innovative means to increase bobwhite populations on a limited scale.

But just because we may find out we can, does not necessarily mean the states and the NBCI should … or even could. Some of the measures (e.g. predator control, supplemental feeding, etc.) that are being or may be employed by private conservationists to increase local bobwhite populations may not be appropriate or feasible for states or the NBCI at statewide or regional scales.  Various important factors such as tenets of the North American Model, states’ financial constraints, logistical barriers such as landscape scales, competing resource demands, societal and political tolerance, conservation partnership implications, risks of unintended consequences, etc. affect the conservation policy decisions of public agencies.

The NBCI is following the science and keeping our eye on the ball at the horizon – staying focused on habitat degradation as the fundamental root cause of the range-wide bobwhite problem. As slow and frustrating as it is to address that reality, the NBCI’s role for the foreseeable future is to provide national leadership, coordination and capacity to catalyze large-scale, strategic restoration of native habitats as the long-term means to restore widespread populations.

 

A Quail Hunter Who WOULDN’T Go Away

In November, I lamented a fundamental bobwhite conservation problem – most quail hunters just go away quietly, rather than stand up and work to restore their resource, their sport and their tradition.  I was not writing about Kim Price.  Kim did not, would not go away.  He tenaciously applied his skills and every means available to him to aid quail conservation until the very end.  He just succumbed to cancer at the age of 57.

Kim was a professional communicator and newspaper man, and a passionate quail hunter.  His current primary day job was as president and publisher of The Wetumpka (AL) Herald newspaper.

When the “Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative” (NBCI) was published by the former Southeast Quail Study Group (SEQSG) in March 2002, Kim and his brother, Tim, perceived an opportunity and an urgent need to reach new audiences with information about quail traditions, conservation and the NBCI.  On their own initiative, and at their own risk, the Price brothers promptly created a new monthly magazine devoted to bobwhite hunting and conservation, “Covey Rise,” which is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a circulation of more than 10,000.

Kim wanted to do more than just entertain quail hunters; he wanted to apply his communications skills to help the NBCI cause.  From the start, he took a professional newsman’s approach to the new magazine by seriously engaging and offering his services to the SEQSG (now the National Bobwhite Technical Committee, NBTC).  He actively participated in annual meetings of the NBTC and its Outreach Subcommittee, and solicited and readily published perspectives, management information and research findings from wildlife professionals all across the bobwhite range.  The Prices added real value to the NBCI by connecting more professional quail conservationists with more quail hunters, helping grow the conservation movement.

The NBCI conservatively estimates more than 357,000 people still hunt bobwhites (“State of the Bobwhite” report).  The potential power of so many passionate people with a presumably wide array of skills and assets could change the game for quail conservation.  But that potential power will not become actual power unless many of those people follow Kim Price’s leadership and personal example.  The NBCI provides a vision and a united strategy; but it needs the actual power of quail hunters like Kim and Tim Price to succeed.

Ironically, Kim’s last editorial – published October 2011 – highlighted concerns about quail mortality, while confronting his own.  The bobwhite quail community has lost a leader, an ally and a friend.  The world needs more Kim Prices.  Our condolences to Tim and the rest of Kim’s family.

Things Today’s Kids May Never Know About

rotary phone singing bobwhite2 mdoc

I used to enjoy those various thought-provoking generational lists that annually make the rounds on email circuits and the Internet, lists of things or concepts that younger generations have never seen and can’t fully understand … like broken records, camera film, film negatives, and rotary-dial phones.  But that was before it became personal.

The shot across the bow (another concept becoming obsolete!) was the hunter education classes taught by NBCI Forestry Coordinator Mike Black.  He lamented late this summer that only a couple kids out of several dozen even knew what bobwhite quail were.  Most of the dads who were present knew, but not their kids.  I remember shaking our heads and pondering the grim state of things.  But still the reality didn’t sink in fully.

The sobering reality finally hit home last night.  My wife, Sheryl, came home after a frustrating day in her middle-school science lab.  She was struggling to convey some basic concepts of light, such as transmission and scattering.  Grasping for an obvious metaphor to illustrate what happens to light particles going through a translucent medium, she seized on a flushing covey of quail that scatters in all directions, rather than flying together in one direction.

The blank stares were followed quickly by a question from the students’ homeroom teacher, “What are quail?”  Neither the teacher nor any student in the class knew what a quail is.  Sheryl had to get out her field guide to show a picture, but by then her point was meaningless.

Kids today don’t have a clue what they are missing.  How can people miss what they have never known?  Who will strive to restore something they don’t miss?  The weight of bobwhite restoration seems to be falling on those of us with gray in our hair.

Quail Hunters Just “Go Away”

“Deer hunters will march on the steps of the capitol to protest buck regulations; but quail hunters just go away.”

–A frustrated New Jersey quail hunter/conservationist

“If quail hunters made as much noise as bear hunters, this agency would be doing more for quail.”

–A southeastern wildlife agency administrator, September 2011

 

Which comes first – quail hunter action or agency action?  I hear both sides, almost every day.  The “State of the Bobwhite” report, released in October by the NBCI (www.bringbackbobwhites.org), illuminated that much more needs to be done simultaneously at federal, state and local levels to address the bleak state of grassland bird conservation.  But whose move is it?

Quail hunters often contend that if wildlife agencies would do more to restore quail, increased hunter numbers and public support would follow.  Conversely, a common refrain from agency commissioners and administrators is there aren’t enough quail hunters to warrant so much attention and resources; and those that are left don’t speak up.  In other words, deer pay the bills and bear hunters speak up, but quail hunters do neither.

Both views have some merit, but neither helps move us forward.

Here’s where we stand:  the states and the quail technical experts already have taken the first big leadership steps – developing the NBCI, and providing the initial push with their quail organization partners to get it going.  Momentum is building, but not big enough or fast enough.  Now it’s time for legions of individual quail hunters to add their collective weight to the movement.

Wildlife agency commissioners, board members and administrators are human, and respond to squeaky wheels.  I used to be a mid-level administrator for a southeastern state wildlife agency, and saw firsthand how readily deer hunters will storm the castle to try to get their way, while quail hunters are silent and invisible.  Deer hunters make things happen.  Quail hunters could learn lessons from them.

To those quail hunters and enthusiasts who already are actively engaged in and supportive of grassland habitat conservation, “Thank you!”  Your continuing support and engagement is crucial.  To the majority who care but are not yet active, now is the time; no more excuses.  We cannot do it without you.

If throngs of quail hunters in all 25 NBCI states began making noise worthy of the urgency of the problem, agencies would begin to notice and respond.  Respectful prodding may be needed in some places, especially at first.  But over the longer term, quail hunters need to engage their state wildlife agency and commission with positive reinforcement – constructive interaction that is supportive of the agency’s efforts.

The NBCI Management Board, itself—comprised largely of state wildlife agency administrators—challenged quail enthusiasts to get active, to help grow this movement.  Some specific actions that individual quail hunters can and need to take that add value are:

1.         Join one or more organizations that work for quail habitat conservation;

  • Every single person who cares about quail has a stewardship responsibility to join;

  • Provide local leadership and manpower to help implement quail focal areas.

2.         Contact your state agency quail coordinator (www.bringbackbobwhites.org) ;

  • Find out what is already going on for quail in your state;

  • Ask if the NBCI 2.0 has been stepped down and tailored to your state;

  • Offer help, such as with habitat conservation or bird counts on focal areas.

3.         Attend and speak up at commission or board meetings of your state wildlife agency;

  • Promote the NBCI and its habitat restoration goals;

  • Be positive, supportive and appreciative of ongoing quail work;

  • Ask for high priority and more resources for quail;

  • Be persistent.

The human core of quail conservation is why I contend ad nauseam that bobwhite restoration is about “people, politics and money.”  Quail hunters who “go away” will not win political support.  Quail hunters who “go away” will not influence agency policies and spending.  Quail hunters who “go away” will not foster positive change.  The NBCI needs all quail hunters and enthusiasts to get actively engaged, the sooner the better.

The State of the Bobwhite Quail is …

“What are you prepared to do?”

The dying Sean Connery, to Kevin Costner, in The Untouchables.

The state of the bobwhite quail is …

  • declining;

  • in every single state across its range;

  • over short, medium and long-term periods;

  • without exception.

The NBCI released the State of the Bobwhite report, consolidating for the first time up-to-date status and conservation information across all 25 states in the core bobwhite range (see announcement and report on http://www.bringbackbobwhites.org/about-bobwhites/state-of-the-bobwhite).  This report is a spin-off tribute to the national “State of the Birds” report issued by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (www.nabci-us.org).

The State of the Bobwhite report contains 3 major parts:

1.         Status and conservation reports, nationally and from all 25 NBCI states;

2.         Selected results from a bobwhite conservation self-assessment by all 25 NBCI states;

and

3.         The first NBCI “Call to Action,” with priorities for progress over the next year.

NBCI staff debated how much gloomy news to provide in the report, concerned that the full, unvarnished truth might be overwhelming and turn people away.  We decided to pull no punches; the severity and urgency could not otherwise be conveyed.  Besides, anything less wouldn’t be credible to all those who see the problem with their own eyes in their states.

There are bright spots.  Our solid scientific foundation on bobwhite biology, ecology and management is an essential requisite.  From that launching pad, bobwhite conservationists have finally pulled our act together across 25 states, with vision, strategy, internal organization and infrastructure. 

The number of states seriously gearing up to tackle the quail problem is steadily growing.  An expanding array of success stories in several states demonstrates that well-managed land still can produce wild quail in abundance. 

Finally, we have a priceless asset – passion.  Bobwhites evoke the kind of lifelong passion that can make grown men choke up, reminiscing about their fondest quail hunting memories.  On this solid foundation of assets stands the capability to make a difference.

Call  To Action

 Now that the NBCI has starkly laid out the bleak range-wide situation for all to see, what are we prepared to do?  To kick-start progress, the NBCI Management Board issued its first “Call to Action” in the State of the Bobwhite report, identifying timely quail conservation priorities at national, state and local levels.  The Call to Action is not sound-bite rhetoric; it is a serious leadership role and tactical step in a long-term strategy.  Key roles and opportunities are identified for all who care enough to get involved right away.  The NBCI Management Board calls upon:

  • USDA to become a more positive, and less detrimental, force for native grassland                                   conservation;

  • States to prioritize, step down and publicize the NBCI 2.0;

  • Individuals to:

  • join and get active with a grassland habitat organization;

  • speak up in support of your state’s quail initiative; and

  • ask Congress to support agricultural conservation for the public’s wildlife.

As Director of the 9-year-old NBCI, I take the bleak status of bobwhites personally, even though it’s a half-century-old problem.  The State of the Bobwhite report makes clear this is gut-check time for everyone who cares … while there is time.

 

Are We Ready for Success?

You can’t handle the truth! … Jack Nicholson to Tom Cruise, in the movie, “A Few Good Men.”

 

Every person taking the time to read this blog wants earnestly to do their part to help restore abundant bobwhites and grassland birds, and their habitats.  That dedication to the resource is not in question.  What I do wonder lately is whether bobwhite conservationists are really ready for success.

I get asked weekly if the NBCI is “successful,” if there is real hope for quail.  The Initiative is, after all, almost 10 years old.  I can credibly cite a long and profound list of improvements in the energy levels, activities, organization, infrastructure, policy improvements, vision, strategy, capacity and profile of bobwhite conservation (e.g., see the “NBCI Accomplishments and Milestones” fact sheet at www.bringbackbobwhites.org ).  These are important and necessary steps that add real value to, and enable, full-speed implementation of the NBCI.

But what people really want to know is “has the NBCI succeeded anywhere in restoring sustainable, huntable populations of wild quail?”  That question is harder to answer – not because there isn’t lots more quail habitat restoration happening now than before.  Not because quail habitat restoration isn’t working.  But because we are afraid of ourselves.

Success breeds success.  An initial trickle of successes will stimulate more successes.  Eventually a growing stream of quail restoration success stories across the country can fuel a burgeoning movement.  People want to be part of and to invest in winning propositions.  Building this positive feedback loop is vital for the long-term viability, sustainability and growth of the NBCI; indeed, for simply keeping hope alive.

 

Bobwhite Synergy at the NBTC Annual Meeting

quailcoordinator_workshop
Quail coordinators workshop

The annual meeting of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC) feels like slugging an energy drink … or two.  Even for the most determined optimists who are dedicated to restoring bobwhites and grassland birds against long odds, the daily uphill conservation slog can feel lonely at times.  A high-energy gathering of more than 100 hardcore, professional bobwhite conservationists is a sure-fire energizer.

The NBTC meeting in Tallahassee, Florida last week – graciously and efficiently hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Tall Timbers Research Station – attracted some 120 of the nation’s bobwhite leaders for four days of intense strategy deliberations, technical training and camaraderie.   In an era of the most restrictive agency travel budgets in memory, some 23 state wildlife agencies, five non-government organizations, and three federal conservation  agencies participated.

Make no mistake, this is no ordinary technical gathering that batters attendees with endless Powerpoint presentations.  Because the NBTC is the creator and the keeper of, as well as the brains and the fire behind, the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI), no other body is so invested in its ultimate success.  Thus, the NBTC meeting is built for the purpose of advancing implementation the NBCI.  This conference combined the biannual meeting of the NBTC Steering Committee, a half-day training workshop for state quail coordinators, two half days of key presentations, two half days of technical subcommittee breakout sessions, and a daylong field trip to examine prime quail habitats and management in the nearby Red Hills region.

A wide diversity of bobwhite professionals comprise the NBTC, including state quail program coordinators and district biologists; private, state and university quail researchers; non-government and state private lands biologists; state and non-government organization administrators; private, state and federal agriculture policy specialists; grazing management specialists; foresters; songbird experts; and joint venture coordinators.  The NBTC collates this rich array of expertise into a multi-tasking national team with a shared vision for restoring widespread huntable populations of this popular but severely declining game bird.

The NBTC always has prided itself on being a hard-charging group, with a hard-working annual meeting.  Its subcommittees are structured to address priority bobwhite challenges – agriculture policy, forestry, grazing lands, prescribed fire, public outreach and research.  The membership divides itself among the subcommittees based on expertise and interest, to develop priorities, tactics and an agenda of action items for the coming year.  The NBCI’s professional staff round out the NBTC machine by providing full-time capacity to facilitate implementation of those agendas.  The horsepower of the NBTC continues, year-by-year, to grow and pervade on behalf of the NBCI, even after the individual members return to the daily slog … but with a recharged determination.