(NBCI note: Bobwhites also benefit from native grass plantings on CRP.)
By Beverly Preston, USDA Farm Service Agency
North America is filled with people who appreciate birds. Many watch them, some hunt them for food and others just value their beauty and song. Wild birds of all types are a sign of a healthy ecosystem.
That’s why it was so heartening to read in the just-released 2017 edition of the State of the Birds, produced yearly by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, that populations of wetland birds, forest birds and grassland birds are on the upswing, and it is due to a large part to voluntary USDA programs like the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
Take for example the prairie pothole region, which stretches from Iowa through the Dakotas and into Montana and Canada. Waterfowl enthusiasts call it “America’s duck factory.” According to the State of the Birds report, the number of waterfowl in the region has increased by 37 million in 20 years, and the annual economic impact from hunting and birdwatching is an estimated $430 million. That’s a real benefit to rural America and to the economic health of the people who live there.
Substantial benefits are evident elsewhere. For example, in Illinois, farm counties with the highest CRP sign up rates, spring bird counts for Henslow’s sparrows are now 25 times greater than before the program was instituted, and the grasslands the sparrows depend on provide $900 million in flood control, groundwater recharge and water purification services. In nearby Wisconsin and Michigan, grassland plots within crop landscapes doubled the number of grassland birds, and in doing so, increased the rates of predation of insect pest eggs by 30 percent.
‘State of the Birds 2017’ Identifies Benefits for Agriculture, Forestry, and Conservation
(Washington, D.C., August 3, 2017) Thirty-seven million. That’s the increase in the number of waterfowl in the Prairie Pothole Region over the past quarter-century, thanks to the Farm Bill. The State of the Birds 2017: Farm Bill Special Report, released today by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI), documents the many benefits the Farm Bill—America’s single largest source of conservation funding for private lands—has delivered to birds, farmers, and rural communities.
For more than three decades, the Farm Bill has been an effective tool for wildlife conservation, sustaining essential habitat for more than 100 bird species. For farmers, ranchers, and forest owners, the bill provides a safety net that helps keep working lands from being developed. As the 2018 Farm Bill is debated for reauthorization in Congress, the report calls attention to the benefits of investing in conservation on private lands, which make up nearly 70 percent of the land area in the contiguous United States.
“For more than twenty years, the Farm Bill has provided widespread conservation benefits for our nation’s farmers, ranchers, sportsmen and all who enjoy clean drinking water, flood protection and healthy wildlife populations,” said Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist Tom Moorman. “Millions of acres of working lands are conserved through Farm Bill conservation programs that ensure long-term sustainability and productivity of the land that supports waterfowl and many other species of fish and wildlife.”
It’s a striking record of success. Before 1990, for instance, wetland birds and waterfowl were on the decline, trending downward by 10 percent a year. Since wetland easements were added to the Farm Bill, those populations have soared 51 percent.
Grasslands and forest birds have benefited as well. “There’s no doubt that the Farm Bill’s conservation provisions have helped to stabilize populations of grassland birds, which had suffered a nearly 50 percent drop before grassland easements were introduced in 2003,” said Kenneth V. Rosenberg of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the report team leader. “Since that time, we’ve seen an encouraging 3 percent increase in numbers.” The report documents a similar turnaround in forest bird populations, which had dropped 19 percent before the Farm Bill’s Forestry Title was introduced in 1990.
State of the Birds is a regular report published by NABCI’s US Committee, a coalition of 28 state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and bird-focused partnerships. Scientists, government agencies, and bird conservation groups use the State of the Birds as a resource in decision-making about conservation research, policies, and programs. Last year, NABCI’s State of North America’s Birds Report found that more than one-third of North America’s bird species require urgent conservation action.
Farm Bill programs support many kinds of partnerships with private landowners. As documented in the 2017 report, that approach pays off in many ways. Here are a few examples of what the Farm Bill gets done:
- It keeps birds off the Endangered Species List. Voluntary, incentive-based habitat-restoration projects funded by the Farm Bill made it possible to avoid listing the Greater Sage-Grouse as endangered in 2015.
- It promotes public-private partnerships and supports restoration vital to forest birds. In the South, Farm Bill Forestry programs have increased longleaf pine forests by 50 percent, providing valuable habitat and keeping forests from being converted to other uses.
- It protects vital prairie grasslands and wetlands and sustains North American waterfowl. In the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 34 percent of all duck food energy comes from Farm Bill wetlands.
- It creates eco-benefits for the entire farm and delivers return on investment in clean water and birds. Farm Bill grasslands programs improve soil health and natural pest control, provide flood control and water purification, and recharge groundwater supplies.
State of the Birds 2017 also identifies four top conservation priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill, representing the unified voice of NABCI’s broad coalition:
- Increase funding for the voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs that support farmers and ranchers financially while also supporting our natural infrastructure of grasslands and wetlands.
- Improve the impact of Farm Bill conservation programs on priority wildlife species, drawing on input from individual states.
- Enhance Farm Bill public-private partnerships. Partner biologist positions hold the key to matching landowners with conservation programs that best fit the landowners’ wildlife and land-use goals.
- Support the use of science, including monitoring and evaluation of Farm Bill conservation programs over time, to maximize the bill’s effectiveness and return on investment.
”Farm Bill conservation programs, such as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, get on-the-ground work done for species of greatest concern such as Golden-winged Warbler and Northern Bobwhite,” said Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy at American Bird Conservancy. “The 2018 Farm Bill will hopefully build on this success by fully supporting these conservation programs.”
The U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) is a coalition of 28 federal and state agencies, non-profit organizations, and bird-focused partnerships that advance biological, social, and scientific priorities for North American bird conservation. American Bird Conservancy is a member of NABCI.
We’ve been waiting for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to do more than talk about quail restoration, and it looks like that time is coming.
Over the last two years, the Commission has taken encouraging steps to prioritize upland bird habitat. The agency has reached out to prominent bird hunting enthusiasts like Judge Bill Wilson, former state supreme court justice Jack Holt and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Rex Nelson. It also has hired its first dedicated quail biologist, Marcus Asher.
That’s all great, but so far the Commission’s efforts have been superficial. As is often the case in government, meetings and symbols substitute for progress.
Apparently, real progress is coming.
In his first meeting as Commission chairman, Steve Cook of Malvern directed the agency’s administrative staff to establish an upland bird stamp. If adopted, it will be an additional, elective cost to hunters similar to our state duck stamp or trout stamp.
Read more about the upland bird hunting stamp proposal in Arkansas in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
In a handful of states, the annual surveys of bobwhite, pheasants, rabbits, and other game species provide valuable data for wildlife managers. Read the entire story in Audubon magazine here.
PINELANDS – June 29, 2017 – The problem was evident and alarming: Populations of Northern Bobwhite quail had dropped 82 percent, from 1966 to 2010 across its national range, and in New Jersey it was considered functionally extinct.
The loss of quality habitat, especially young forest, made it increasingly more difficult for the quail to nest. For the Northern Bobwhite to survive in southern New Jersey, New Jersey Audubon (NJA) and its partners joined in a progressive, three-year research project to bring in wild quail from Georgia, where there is a viable population.
NJA is reintroducing the quail to restored habitat in the Pinelands, where the quail had virtually disappeared over the past four decades.
“We have seen a substantial decline in quail and yet, with proper habitat management, we believe we can bring them back, which is why we are bringing them in to reestablish their population,” explained John Cecil, Vice President for Stewardship, NJA.
After a massive effort and coordination with state agencies and project collaborators, the first quail nest of 2017 was discovered by NJA’s researchers at the Pine Island Cranberry Study Site in Chatsworth, Burlington County. The nest, as well as three more discovered in June, marks the third consecutive year of successful breeding by the translocated birds; further evidence of a turning tide in New Jersey.
A key partner in the project is the Haines family, which owns the largest cranberry farm in the state and has been harvesting cranberries since 1890. The family, operating under a forest stewardship plan for its 17,000 acres since 2001, is working with NJA on the project, marveling in the fact that quail are returning to land the family has cultivated for generations.
“My grandfather always told my dad and my dad told us if you have a resource you need to take care of it,” said Stefanie Haines, a member of the fifth-generation of the Haines family who is working the land. “If the quail are back, we are doing what we are supposed to do.”
As part of the project, the quail are captured in the wild in groups in Georgia and carefully transported to New Jersey. Each bird is fitted with its own radio collar and carefully tracked with radio telemetry. This allows NJA to quickly learn if they are thriving in the new habitat hundreds of miles north of where they were hatched.
The first release was in April 2015, with the first quail nest discovered in New Jersey three months later – the first known nesting in the Pinelands since the 1980s. From the first release, researchers have discovered 66 eggs had hatched. There was a second release in April 2016, and a third release this spring. Researchers are eager to discover which quail are collared and which aren’t – signaling the return of naturally-born quail in New Jersey. Dozens of nests have been found on the study site since the project began.
Aside from Pine Island Cranberry Company, key partners in the project include the University of Delaware, Pine Creek Forestry, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy in Tallahassee, FL, which focuses on the study and preservation of the Bobwhite quail. Long-term quail translocation research is a hallmark of Tall Timbers.
“We are working to create permanence with Northern Bobwhite in New Jersey,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director – North Region, NJA. “In reviewing the data collected over the last few years and seeing these wild birds adapt to their new surroundings is a testament to how important active management is to maintain forest health and wildlife diversity,” Parke said. “The Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative has implications for quail recovery in the Mid-Atlantic, is providing information on other species that use these same managed forest habitat, and is motivating others to implement forest management.
“We are excited by the progress of the project and eager to see quail back in New Jersey,” he added.
When former Gov. Mike Beebe announced his new appointment to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission seven years ago, Fred Brown of Corning seemed an odd fit.
He was a mismatch, but he was the man that Beebe needed to reorient a commission that had lost its way.
Bad news spewed from the agency like lava from a volcano and embarrassed Beebe with maddening regularity. Two wildlife officers were caught hunting out of state without hunting licenses. Two others hunted with firearms that had been confiscated from violators as evidence. The agency had overstocked its vehicle fleet, and an abnormally large number of salaried employees were furnished cars for personal use.
Read the entire article by Bryan Hendricks at http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2017/jun/15/brown-leaves-mark-on-agfc-20170615/?f=sports
News from the NRCS
The Bobwhite Quail in Florida is in trouble. In fact, populations across Florida and throughout the southeastern US have dropped from an estimated 31 million to only 5.5 million in the past 50 years. That’s 80 percent of the population just gone.
Habitat loss is the leading contributing factor to the quail’s demise. Bobwhites need frequently burned open pine savannas and rangelands to provide food, nesting and brood habitat and escape cover. Thinned pine stands (< 60 sq ft. /ac) and lower density pine plantings (< 500 trees / acre) are important to provide an open canopy that allows sunlight to the ground for food and nesting and brood habitat. Clumps of bunch grasses such as bluestems, Indian grass and wiregrass provide excellent nesting sites. Forbs such as ragweed, partridge pea and beggars tick provide food, cover and the bare ground essential for travel and finding seed. Shrubby areas with plants such as green briar, blackberry, plum thickets and yaupon provide quail escape cover from predators, protect them from cold or heat, and can be used as loafing sites.
Throughout Florida, changes in farm and timber practices have left little room for bobwhites. Pine stands are too thick with brush to provide habitat for quail. Many farms that once provided nesting and escape cover have cleared fence rows and left little ground for nesting and brood rearing. Former rangelands in the Panhandle have been converted to Bahia or Bermuda pasture which provide minimal benefit to bobwhites.
But these trends can be reversed. By applying a few practices, landowners can restore habitat by frequent prescribed burning, cutting back brush, thinning dense pine stands or disking.
Through a special 2017 signup ending May 19, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is helping landowners restore quail and other pine savanna species that share the northern bobwhite range. NRCS will take applications for 2018 if you do not make the May 19 deadline. If you are interested in learning more, contact your local NRCS district conservationist at www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/fl/contact or FWC private lands biologist at www.myfwc.com/conservation/special-initiatives/lap/contact-us .
More information on Bobwhite Quail is available at the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Management Institute, www.whmi.nrcs.usda.gov, the National Bobwhite Quail Initiative, www.bringbackbobwhites.org , Quail Forever, www.quailforever.org , or The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, www.myfwc.com .
SOMERSET, NJ, March 21, 2017 – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is now accepting applications from farmers and landowners in seven New Jersey counties who are interested in installing conservation practices to help restore pine savanna, a critical wildlife habitat of the Northern Bobwhite. With a decline of suitable habitat, the bobwhite quail population in eastern North America has declined by more than 85% since the 1960s.
Northern Bobwhite, commonly referred to as bobwhite quail, is a state-identified target species of the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) partnership, an NRCS initiative that brings partner groups together to develop a collaborative approach to conserve habitat on working lands.
Through this WLFW effort, NRCS can provide technical and financial assistance to eligible landowners to implement a variety of conservation practices to restore northern bobwhite quail habitat. Restoration projects will include developing and implementing forestry plans that include activities such as tree thinning and prescribed burning to improve forest health.
Landowners in Ocean, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties are eligible to apply. Eligibility requirements for NRCS programs set forth in the 2014 Farm Bill will apply.
NRCS accepts applications on a continuous basis but makes funding selections at specific times. For funding consideration in 2017, please submit an application before April 21, 2017. To apply or learn more, please contact your local USDA service center. In Ocean County, Burlington County, and Camden County, call NRCS at the Columbus Service Center 609-267-1639, ext. 3; in Salem County and Gloucester County, call NRCS at the Woodstown Service Center 856-769-1126; and in Atlantic and Cumberland Counties, call NRCS at the Vineland Service Center 856-205-1225, ext. 3.
NRCS provides financial and technical assistance to help agricultural producers with erosion control, water management, water quality, and other resource concerns through conservation programs authorized by the Farm Bill. USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), 800-877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866-367-8642 (Relay voice users).