September 27, 2019
This is the story of a bird in a tailspin.
Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, the Northern Bobwhite was a fairly common bird here in southwestern Missouri. I remember nearly falling off my startled horse when flocks of 25 or 30 birds would flush out of the overgrown pasture I would often ride in. The “old timers” used to tell me that they recalled encountering flocks twice that size. Sadly, it’s now been several years since I’ve seen or heard any quail around where I live.
The Northern Bobwhite, like several other species of nonmigratory gallinaceous gamebirds in the United States, has suffered severe declines across much of its range, especially in the Midwest and South, and it is dramatically receding from the northeastern part of its range. While the species is included in planning by Partners in Flight, a multi-species trinational landbird conservation enterprise, it also has its own initiative, the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI), plus the associated technical arm, the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC).
As the NBCI turns 25, I’m grateful to be working together with many partners to save quail, their grassland habitats, and the myriad plants and animals that share these important landscapes. Never has there been such a critically important time to come together to try to save these birds.
Recently, I was invited to join the NBTC steering committee to represent American Bird Conservancy and the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture (CHJV), for which I am Coordinator.
I brought my non-gamebird perspective, knowing full well that saving bobwhites means saving many other birds that share the species’ grassland and brushland habitats. My tenure began with a meeting of the steering committee this past January. More recently, in July, I attended a much larger gathering of NBTC members, where some of their achievements were more broadly highlighted. I feel confident that this group of staff from primarily state wildlife agencies and nongovernmental organizations has found, and continues to find, creative ways to improve conditions for the beloved gamebird, as well many of the nongame species in somewhat parallel decline.
I can attest that the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture has also been concerned with the plight of the bobwhite since our partnership’s inception over 18 years ago. Migratory Bird Joint Ventures (JVs) are public-private partnerships in which state and federal wildlife and land-managing agencies and nongovernmental conservation organizations collectively work to reverse declines and support sustainable populations of bird species of conservation concern at eco-regional scales. Although the implication is that JVs only focus on migratory birds, there are quite a few species in need of conservation attention — including the Northern Bobwhite — that don’t migrate long distances but also receive conservation action via JV activities. In fact, we have had the NBCI represented on our JV board by its Director, Don McKenzie, who will soon be leaving his post.
Northern Bobwhites may be declining for different reasons in different places, with threats including conversion to row crop agriculture and nonnative pasture grasses, fire suppression, and heavy cattle stocking rates.
Knowing bobwhites need a mix of native grasses, forbs, and shrubs within their year-round home range, NBCI staff have for years worked to get a “Native’s First” policy in the USDA “Farm Bill” that provides millions of dollars of incentives to private landowners to implement bobwhite-friendly management practices on their lands. For the first time, after many years of effort, language that prioritizes the planting of natives over nonnative vegetation was included in the Farm Bill that passed last fall. This alone will help many grassland species of conservation concern, as well as helping to drought-proof grazing lands and improve soil health.
Along with getting USDA to prioritize native vegetation in their incentive programs, the NBCI long ago recognized that landowners who work their lands for their livelihoods must be able to make as much or more money from incorporating natives as not. The NBCI Grasslands Coordinator and working group, in conjunction with the Center for Native Grasslands Management at the University of Tennessee, have developed detailed guidelines for how native grasses can be used, both in rotation and continuous grazing systems, and they have shown that the weight gains of cattle that result are as good or better than with nonnative forage grasses such as Bermuda and Tall Fescue. They are working hard to get that message out so that enough producers make the switch on the vast acreages we need to recover the Northern Bobwhite, Eastern Meadowlark, Grasshopper Sparrow, and other bird species of conservation concern.
In addition to working on improving grazing lands, the NBCI partners with researchers at universities like Mississippi State who are looking at how “precision ag”— the mapping of things like projected crop yields per unit of investment in fertilizers, irrigation, etc. — can be used to identify parcels where the return on investment doesn’t justify those costs, or where the farmer suffers little or no loss if those acres are planted in bird-friendly vegetation.
Another contribution to grassland bird conservation lies with the NBCI’s aim that on-the-ground habitat improvements must be structured in a way that can provide the varied kinds of food and cover that the birds need throughout their annual cycle. Being nonmigratory, the bobwhite needs open native grasslands in spring and summer for nesting and brood-rearing, but also proximity to shrubby patches where the overhead vegetation helps keep them cool in summer, covered from snow and ice in winter, and able to escape predators in any season.
The NBCI’s Science Committee also strongly recommends that areas targeted for quail conservation be large enough to sustain 800 or more birds in the fall, in order to maintain viable populations in any given area, with the minimum area of high-quality habitat being at least 1,500 acres on no less than 25 percent of the landscape in a “focal area.” Other species of grasslands birds of conservation concern, like Henslow’s and Grasshopper Sparrows, are “area-sensitive” as well, needing very large tracts of habitat rather than small, isolated patches, to successfully reproduce. Unfortunately, those needs often get overlooked in efforts to “just get some habitat” on the ground. Kudos to the NBCI for directly pinning their habitat recommendations to the biology of their species of interest.
In addition to the guidelines for establishing focal areas, the NBCI’s Science Committee developed an innovative and detailed monitoring system that links bird population responses to the amount and configuration of habitat within each focal area, comparing them to results at paired control sites. The data collected are analyzed with an eye to improving the design of future conservation and monitoring efforts, so actions get more results over time.
As I’d mentioned before, bobwhites have and need a lot of friends. The circle seems to be growing. All of this planning and policy work would be for naught without a dedicated cadre of professionals who are well-trained to get the habitat on the ground. State “quail biologists” have been working in their respective states on behalf of quail from the beginning of the NBCI, but in recent years, partnerships with nongovernmental organizations like Quail Forever and the National Wild Turkey Federation have produced a small army of “Farm Bill biologists” able to reach out to even more private landowners with information about state and federal private lands incentives programs that can help to improve habitat for bobwhite in areas where public lands are scarce or managed for different resource concerns.
While all this good work is indeed targeted at recovering the Northern Bobwhite, upon which the NBCI has a hard focus, much of the habitat work benefits other grassland wildlife, including the birds of conservation concern mentioned above, plus many others. The challenge now is to keep the momentum going so that some “critical mass” of habitat is achieved. That way, I hope, the quail’s familiar call will once again echo throughout rural landscapes across its range.
Jane Fitzgerald is an ABC Vice President and the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture Coordinator.
Arkansas Golf Course Boasts Native Prairie, a Variety of “Birdies”
It began as a simple quest by a self-described “Oklahoma country boy” to reduce the maintenance costs on the 27-hole Ben Geren Golf Course in Fort Smith, Arkansas, which had a maintenance crew barely large enough to maintain 18 holes. The result was a gem in the Natural State’s second-largest city that is attracting a broad spectrum of interest, from Arkansas Audubon to the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative to Future Farmers of America classes, the state’s botanist, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and others. And at least two coveys of bobwhites, one at each end of the course, have also taken up residency here.
“There’s a whole lot more than golf going on here now,” says course superintendent Jay Randolph. This wasn’t Randolph’s first rodeo… or golf course. Upon arriving in early 2016, “I knew we needed to reduce mowable acres,” said Randolph, who grew up in the Osage plains of Oklahoma hunting prairie chickens and bobwhites. And he was just 15 hours away from a wildlife biology degree from Northeastern State University when he jumped to Oklahoma State to earn a degree in horticulture (with a specialty in turf grass) and launch a golf course management career.
During his search for potential solutions at Ben Geren, he discovered the 275-acre course was set amid what was once the 10,500-acre Massard Prairie, a large, tall grass prairie of native grasses and forbs that had been reduced by development to only 200 scattered acres. He also discovered the course even had a few tiny scraps of prairie, scraps that were being consistently mowed as part of facility maintenance…
“Native plants can protect soil, water, and air quality while also providing needed habitat for monarch butterflies, upland game birds, pollinators, and many other wildlife species.”
WASHINGTON — More than 85 groups yesterday asked the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to prioritize the use of native plants in the conservation programs they manage. The National Wildlife Federation, the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, the Izaak Walton League of America, and the Missouri Prairie Foundation were among the groups that weighed in on the agency’s review of its National Handbook of Conservation Practices.
“We are too frequently missing out on the important benefits native plants provide,” said Aviva Glaser, director of agriculture policy for the National Wildlife Federation. “Native plants can protect soil, water, and air quality while also providing needed habitat for monarch butterflies, upland game birds, pollinators, and many other wildlife species. We encourage USDA to make this switch to prioritizing diverse native plantings in conservation practice standards in order to maximize the resource benefits of our limited conservation dollars.”
USDA soil, water, and forage conservation practices historically often rely on introduced, non-native plants rather than native species. A total of 86 national, state, and local organizations submitted joint comments to USDA arguing that prioritizing the use of native plants would improve water quality and soil health while providing habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.
“Incorporating native vegetation in USDA conservation practices could be the most important development in restoring bobwhites, other declining grassland birds and pollinators across their ranges,” said National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative Director Don McKenzie. “Such an improved use for public conservation money spent by USDA would be the game changer for many declining wildlife species.”
Studies have shown native plants provide equal or better benefits for soil conservation, water quality, carbon sequestration, ecosystem function, and livestock forage, while also providing excellent habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Increased use of native plants could benefit a wide range of species, including northern bobwhite, lesser prairie-chicken, greater sage-grouse, other upland game birds, songbirds, monarch butterflies and other pollinators.
“The Missouri Prairie Foundation and many other conservation groups and businesses in Missouri are pleased to have the opportunity to support this initiative,” said Carol Davit, Executive Director of the Missouri Prairie Foundation and its Grow Native! program. “Native plants in conservation practices benefit the land and wildlife, benefit the farmer, and the taxpayer.”
“Native plants are adapted to a region’s soil and climate, so they should be easier to maintain and more likely to survive. Using native plants in all USDA conservation programs will help ensure that the conservation practices funded with our tax dollars will deliver on the water quality and other benefits promised,” said Duane Hovorka, Agriculture Program Director, Izaak Walton League of America.
More information: NRCS practice standards – 86 groups encourage native plant use
Many wildlife species have complex behaviors and utilize their habitat in ways we still do not fully understand. While the mysteries of the wild intrigue most any outdoors lover, they do pose challenges when it comes to the management of sensitive or declining species.
Quail in Texas, more specifically the iconic Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), are among the species we still have much to learn. While small in size, this bird plays a big role in ecosystem dynamics and is often dubbed the “canary of the prairie,” as their presence is an indicator for ecological health. Despite public interest and general affinity for the bobwhite, populations continue to decline throughout its historic range, concerning landowners, scientists and wildlife enthusiast alike. Many research efforts, such as the Reversing the Decline of Quail in Texas Initiative, are underway to better understand and promote conservation and land management activities to help this vital species.
Tracking technology has been at the forefront of major quail research discoveries, as it allows researchers to access a quail’s day-to-day movement and fine scale habitat use. Many studies use GPS transmitter technology, a relatively recent advancement in wildlife tracking, which allow researchers to directly download daily quail movement data from a remote location. Once downloaded and processed, the data can be mapped out to describe a story of the quail’s daily whereabouts, including time spent in different locations. From here, data is paired with on-the-ground realities, such as habitat cover type and density, to help draw conclusions on how quail interact with their environment.
Our Texas Land Trends program group created this month’s featured map to display the movement of one GPS collared Northern Bobwhite over a three-day period in October. Let us review the map to see where and why this quail moved.
Native range matches rainfall and environment and gives the highest production when managed right.
Native range has long got a bum rap because people didn’t understand how to manage grassland, but in fact it was and is the ultimate grassland crop.
Kansas NRCS rangeland management specialist Doug Spencer calls native range “the perfect cover crop,” which seems fitting in this age when cover cropping is all the rage and is on the tip of so many tongues.
Sadly, there is little true native range left and most of that scattered from Texas to Nebraska, but the lessons it can teach us are useful and much of it could be restored in time.
Spencer lists several assets of native range. It’s a list which should make cover croppers exclaim, “Oh if only we had that!”
1. Native range is an efficient water user.
2. It is highly diverse, with dozens or hundreds of species.
3. It has a deep, productive root system.
4. It forms multiple relationships with mycorrhizal fungi.
5. It requires no fertilizer.
6. It reseeds itself or regrows entirely from root stock.
7. It is drought resistant.
8. It is beneficial for wildlife
9. It is safe for grazing.
TRENTON – The New Jersey Forest Fire Service is developing new guidelines for prescribed burning following the signing of legislation by Governor Phil Murphy providing the service with more tools to conduct these operations that are critical to protection of public safety and forest-health management.
“The legislation the Governor signed last week provides the Forest Fire Service with more flexibility in determining the objectives of prescribed burns and provides clearer goals for owners of private property and nonprofits to utilize controlled burns to manage the health of ecosystems,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe.
Every year, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service has a goal of setting prescribed burns on about 20,000 acres of state-owned and other lands. These burns, also known as controlled burns, can take place in both forested and grassland areas and are critical to reducing fuels such as leaves, pine needles, fallen trees and branches, and shrubs that can act as tinder, causing wildfires to become difficult to control. These burns also improve ecosystem health and diversity by removing competing and invasive plant and tree species and enhancing wildlife habitats.
Among the key components of the legislation is an expansion of the definition of burn objectives to specifically allow for controlled burns to achieve ecosystem diversity, such as creation of wildlife habitats, and not just as a tool to reduce hazardous fuels.
The legislation also sets reasonable liability expectations for operations conducted by the Forest Fire Service and any other owners of wild lands. In addition, the legislation strengthens the ability of the Forest Fire Service to assess and address wildfire dangers on wild lands. Under the legislation, the Forest Fire Service may collect fees when appropriate on land not owned by the state to carry out management activities.
The Forest Fire Service worked closely with numerous stakeholders, including nonprofits, environmental organizations and outdoor sports organizations to help the Legislature craft the legislation, which passed unanimously in both houses. Governor Murphy signed the measure, A1675, into law on Aug. 24.
“New Jersey has long had a vigorous and strong prescribed burning program that is respected across the nation and is often studied by other wildland managers, scientists and firefighting agencies,” said State Firewarden Gregory McLaughlin. “This legislation will make the program even stronger and more effective. We plan to begin implementing many of the new measures in the next prescribed burning season.”
In New Jersey, the prescribed burning season typically takes place during the late fall into the late spring or early winter, depending on weather conditions. Operations are conducted at this time of year to take advantage of favorable weather conditions, such as lower relative humidity and cured fuels. These conditions are more conducive for managing burns so that they better consume targeted vegetation and debris.
Sometimes, however, extremely wet conditions during the prescribed burning season may limit the ability of the Forest Fire Service to achieve its acreage goal. The new law provides the Forest Fire Service more flexibility to conduct burning operations at other times of year when conditions are favorable to achieve other resource management objectives.
Nearly all wildfires in the state are caused by people, usually by accident, carelessness, recklessness and even arson. The Forest Fire Service must carefully weigh risks of fire suppression against the potential for wildfires to cause property damage and endanger lives. The best tools the Forest Fire Service has at its disposal are public education campaigns informing the public about wildfire safety and prescribed burning operations.
During prescribed burns, Forest Fire Service personnel use handheld torches to set smaller fires to burn away fallen leaves, pine needles, fallen branches and other debris on the forest floor. Personnel consider wind, moisture and other conditions in setting the fires.
Wildfires can have the greatest impact in areas where people live in or near forests, grasslands and other natural areas. The sprawling Pinelands region in southern New Jersey is especially prone to wildfires because its ecosystem is adapted to depend on periodic wildfires for releasing of seeds for reproduction. Controlling the buildup of fuel in this region helps keep the forests healthy.
The peak wildfire season in New Jersey is in the early spring, when weather conditions tend to be dry and windy and the forests haven’t leafed yet, exposing debris, leaves, needles and shrubs to the drying effects of the sun. Other peak seasons are in the early fall, when weather conditions can also be dry, as well as particularly dry periods during the summer.
The New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry and the Forest Fire Service work to provide the public with advance notice of prescribed burning operations. When in doubt about the source of smoke or if a fire is part of a prescribed burning operation, call 9-1-1 or 1-877-WARN-DEP (1-877-927-6337).
Twenty-eight grants will support efforts to conserve more than 350,000 acres
of longleaf pine habitat and recover populations of at-risk wildlife
WASHINGTON, D.C., Aug. 28, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced 28 conservation grants totaling a record $6.5 million to restore, enhance and protect the longleaf pine forest in eight Southeast states, benefitting species like the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and at-risk gopher tortoise. The grants will generate $7.9 million in matching contributions for a total conservation impact of $14.4 million.
The grants were awarded through the Longleaf Stewardship Fund, a public-private partnership between NFWF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, International Paper’s Forestland Stewards Partnership, Southern Company, American Forest Foundation’s Southern Woods for At-Risk Wildlife Initiative, The Orton Foundation, an affiliate of The Moore Charitable Foundation, founded by Louis Bacon and Altria Group.
The 28 grants announced today will support conservation work in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. Together, the grants are expected to establish more than 17,000 acres and improve more than 335,000 additional acres of habitat across the longleaf pine’s historical range. Grantees will provide educational and technical assistance related to longleaf restoration to more than 5,300 private landowners, with an anticipated 500 landowners entering into stewardship programs on private lands.
The grants will also support the recovery of several rare species through translocation, captive rearing and reintroduction, including the red-cockaded woodpecker and the gopher tortoise. A complete list of the 2018 grants made through the Longleaf Stewardship Fund is available here.
“The Longleaf Stewardship Fund exemplifies what can be achieved for conservation when the public and private sector work collaboratively on a landscape scale,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “Through investing in critical restoration activities and educating landowners to become stronger stewards of their lands, the Longleaf Stewardship Fund is helping secure the future of one of the world’s most biodiverse landscapes, and the species and communities that rely on it.”
The longleaf pine ecosystem once encompassed more than 90 million acres across the Southeast, but it has been reduced to only about 5 percent of its historical range. This fire-adapted ecosystem boasts immense biodiversity, including the indigo snake, reticulated flatwoods salamander and gopher frog, and important game species such as bobwhite quail, wild turkey and white-tailed deer.
Longleaf forests provide a range of additional benefits, supporting forest-dependent economies, military readiness and recreational opportunities for millions of Americans. After experiencing a century-long decline, longleaf forests became the focus of conservation efforts in the late 20th Century when communities, government agencies, nonprofits and private landowners began collaborating to restore longleaf pine and reverse the loss of habitat.
“Over the last six years, the effectiveness of the Longleaf Stewardship Fund in restoring and improving the longleaf pine ecosystem cannot be overstated,” said Ken Arney, Regional Forester with the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Region. “This fund is a catalyst for bringing together and leveraging the resources and expertise of public agencies, private companies and other groups resulting in greater on-the-ground outcomes than what can be achieved independently.”
“Just as longleaf pine forests are home to diverse plants and animals, working together, we bring a diverse group of partners to protect and enhance this unique Southern ecosystem,” said NRCS Acting Chief Leonard Jordan. “The voluntary work of private landowners plays an important role in managing for healthy longleaf forests that benefit wildlife, natural resources and rural economies.”
“DoD is delighted that seven military installations in the Southeast region will directly benefit from this year’s effort to push longleaf conservation forward.” said Maureen Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Environment, Safety & Occupational Health. “DoD and NFWF have a longstanding relationship when it comes to protecting the longleaf pine ecosystem, as protection of this forestland is vitally important to national defense and operation of our military installations in the Southeast. By ensuring the prosperity of longleaf forests, we can promote compatible land uses near military facilities and enhance habitat for at-risk species, thereby allowing our armed forces to continue their training, testing, and operational missions without added restrictions. This year through the Longleaf Stewardship Fund, approximately $5 will be spent by our partners for every dollar DoD spends, resulting in an outstanding collaboration for both conservation and military readiness.”
“The Fish and Wildlife Service is proud to be a part of this important long-term effort to restore longleaf pine across the Southeast,” said Mike Oetker, acting regional director for the Service’s Southeast Region. “Under the Foundation’s leadership and the support of an diverse group of partners, we can celebrate another $6.5 million being shared with partners to conserve more than 350,000 acres benefitting At-Risk wildlife like the gopher tortoise and progress on the recovery of other wildlife like the red-cockaded woodpecker.”
“Our entire business depends on the sustainability of forests,” said Tom Cleves, International Paper’s vice president of global citizenship. “By contributing to these 28 conservation grants through our Forestland Stewards partnership, we are making a positive impact on the restoration, enhancement and protection of the longleaf pine forest across the Southeast U.S.”
“Southern Company is committed to environmental stewardship and to helping restore the iconic longleaf pine ecosystem as we have over the past 15 years,” said Southern Company Executive Vice President of Operations Stan Connally. “We are pleased that this model program continues to expand public and private partnerships to accelerate the recovery of a once prolific landscape—home to dozens of species at risk.”
“Families and individuals own nearly 60 percent of the forests across the South, making them key to helping restore needed forested habitat,” said Tom Martin, President and CEO of the American Forest Foundation. “These individuals care about wildlife and want to do right by the land, but often need support and technical assistance to get the job done. We are proud to be a part of the Longleaf Stewardship Fund to help make this happen and help landowners make the impact they too want to see on the land.”
“The Orton Foundation is proud to be part of the important public-private partnership that is powering restoration of America’s iconic longleaf pine forests under the leadership of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation,” said Ann Colley, executive director and vice president of The Orton Foundation, an affiliate of The Moore Charitable Foundation. “NFWF’s leadership in forging a partnership among such distinguished groups exemplifies the sort of vision that is necessary to restore longleaf pines and make conservation an enduring American value.”
“We’re pleased to be able to provide this support to help the conservation and restoration of the longleaf pine forests,” said Elizabeth Becker, Director Corporate Responsibility, for Altria Client Services. “Promoting the sustainability of natural resources is a core part of Altria’s mission and we take pride in knowing that our contributions are helping to protect the natural resources on which are businesses and communities depend.”
Since 2012, the Longleaf Stewardship Fund has invested more than $30.6 million in projects that will establish more than 92,000 acres, improve more than 1.35 million additional acres of longleaf pine forest and benefit the native species that rely on those forests.
The fund combines the financial and technical resources of its funding partners to accelerate the restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem, while implementing the Range-Wide Conservation Plan for Longleaf Pine as part of America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative.
About the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Chartered by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores the nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and habitats. Working with federal, corporate and individual partners, NFWF has funded more than 4,500 organizations and generated a conservation impact of more than $4.8 billion. Learn more at www.nfwf.org.
By Bryan Hendricks
Fair winds are blowing for the bobwhite quail, and Arkansas has the momentum to reap the rewards.
A new bill that was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate will, if enacted, provide a major catalyst for declining species, such as quail, that are not threatened or endangered.
On Tuesday, Sens. James Risch (R-Idaho), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) introduced “The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (Senate Bill 3223),” which will redirect $1.3 billion annually from energy development on federal lands and waters to the existing Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program.
The bill will not require taxpayers or businesses to pay any additional money. Instead, existing money will be reallocated toward conserving aquatic and terrestrial species of “greatest conservation need,” as identified by state agencies such as the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Such species in Arkansas include the northern bobwhite quail and the Ozark hellbender.
A new “Native Grass College” is a free resource that takes viewers into the field, giving them comprehensive information and detailed visuals on a variety of subjects related to managing native grass forages.
Developed by Patrick Keyser, professor in the University of Tennessee Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries and director of the UT Center for Native Grasslands Management, the online resource will be a series of video courses on managing native grass forages.
With this new tool, viewers can gain training and knowledge from the comfort of the home or office. The first course, Native Grass Establishment 101, is available now and provides training on how to successfully establish native grass forages, including best practices to implement before, during and after planting. Additional courses, such as weed control and grazing management are in the works and will be added to the course library upon completion.
In this age of online tutorials on almost any subject imaginable, Keyser and his colleague Gary Bates, UT Extension forage specialist and director of the UT Beef and Forage Center, had considered developing this type of educational tool over the past several years. “It allows forage growers to attend a virtual field day, or professional educators to attend a virtual in-service training, without taking time out of their busy schedules for travel”, said Keyser. This approach also takes students “straight to the field” for training on the latest research-based guidelines for managing native grass forages. “Our hope is that we can train many times more people on how to use this forage tool on their farms by making it easily accessible”, Keyser added.
In addition to the videos, viewers will see a list of other resources that supplement each course topic. To view the first course and access other resources, visit nativegrasses.utk.edu.
The Center for Native Grasslands Management was established in 2006 by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture to provide the scientific background needed by producers and land managers to enable them to effectively establish and manage native grasslands. The center is housed within the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, which focuses on a mastery learning approach, emphasizing practical, hands-on experiences. FWF’s faculty, staff and students conduct research and extension that advances the science and sustainable management of our natural resources.
The bobwhite quail used to be found across the United States’ open prairies and grasslands, but in the last 100 years their populations have declined dramatically. Some regions of the country have seen bobwhite quail populations fall by as much as 80% since the mid 1900s.
This rapid decline in bobwhite quail numbers is due in large part to habitat loss—they are running out of places to mate, live, and hide. Homes, roads, and buildings have sprung up on the grasslands the bobwhite quail once called home. In addition to the bobwhite quail, many other wildlife species such as songbirds, invertebrates, mammals, and birds of prey rely on these disappearing grasslands.
Small in size, quick on the wing, and well adapted for open grasslands, the bobwhite quail is a little upland bird that was once prevalent from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. Today it’s limited to the southern Great Plains spreading eastward to the Southeastern United States. This baseball-sized bird is covered with mottled brown, tan, gray, white, and black feathers and weighs only a few ounces.The bobwhite quail lives in coveys of up to 20 birds, and the quail’s survival is highly dependent upon grassland ecosystems.
For centuries, hunters have pursued this popular game bird, and birders enjoy listening to the distinct call of the bobwhite and watching their quick escapes on the wing. In addition to their recreational value, quail are also a crucial part of the grassland itself.
The presence of quail in a grassland helps show if the ecosystem is healthy. A healthy grassland has the right balance of vegetation, food, space, and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife species. This robust grassland looks like an open prairie with waist-high grasses, spots of bare ground, and smaller trees or shrubs on the edges of a field. The grassland ecosystems that are most beneficial for quail contain the perfect amount of shelter, feed, and open spaces.
All About Teamwork
As suitable bobwhite quail habitat across the eastern United States continues to decrease, the National Park Service (NPS) works to help address the issue of grassland preservation and restoration. The NPS is collaborating with several state wildlife agencies and private organizations to get a larger grasslands restoration effort rolling on NPS lands across the Eastern United States.
The idea of collaborating with a state wildlife agency and a non-government organization to restore grassland ecosystems within specific national parks came from a grasslands restoration project at Pea Ridge National Military Park, located in northwestern Arkansas. The NPS partnered with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative to restore, maintain, and manage Pea Ridge’s grasslands and prairies. Restoring these grassland habitats, including declining bobwhite quail populations as well as other critical ecosystem components, is a priority for all of the parties involved in the project.
Physically restoring a landscape requires many different management practices. This is especially true when it comes to reestablishing habitats that have been altered for centuries. Over the past two centuries, the land that currently makes up Pea Ridge National Military Park has served as native prairies, battlefields during the Civil War, and farm grounds. Before the land at Pea Ridge National Military park was used for battle fields and farms, it was used and managed by American Indians.
Some of the restoration techniques used at Pea Ridge include:
Controlled burning of grasslands inside the park.
Selective use of herbicides.
Cutting and removing trees and shrubs.
Removing overgrown grasses and weeds.
These restoration practices help create a healthier grassland ecosystem in many ways. Controlled fires remove most of the overgrown, non-native, and weedy plant species within a grassland ecosystem. The controlled fires make space for younger native grasses and forbs, which are different types flowering plants commonly found in grasslands. Young native plants also provide food and shelter for grassland wildlife species, such as the bobwhite quail.
In addition to new plant life, areas that lack vegetation and have open patches of soil are another key component of excellent wildlife habitat, including bobwhite quail habitat. The quail use these areas to “gravel up” after they feed. When a quail “gravels up,” it eats small stones and pieces of gravel that help it digest its food. An open landscape with smaller sections of trees and shrubs also provides excellent shelter for the bobwhite quail and many other wildlife species such as songbirds, small mammals, and invertebrates.
Success at Pea Ridge Spurs Change
Although bobwhite quail and grassland-dependent bird numbers have largely been declining in the Eastern United States, some populations have begun to make recoveries in recent years as their habitats recover too.
Riding on the coattails of the success at Pea Ridge, other national park units have recently begun their own restoration initiatives, and dozens more have expressed interest in employing similar projects in the future.
National Park Service ecologists and biologists are exploring and implementing similar efforts at other parks in the United States such as Manassas National Battlefield Park in northern Virginia, Chickasaw National Recreation Area in southern Oklahoma, and recently Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in central Alabama. These restoration projects are similar to the Pea Ridge restoration project and will require collaboration with other government agencies, state natural resource departments, non-government organizations, and private landowners.
Recovering Grasslands Hold Potential for Prosperous Future
Moments after the covey of bobwhite quail glides into the thicket of trees lining the open grassy field, a sharp whistle calls out from underneath one of the trees. Not far off, another whistle answers back. Bob-white, they both call out in a rising, two-toned whistle. Several more whistles echo the same call from across the field. Among the tall prairie grasses that sprawl out from the edges of the trees, the rustling of running quail and their sharp whistles bring the prairie to life.
As grasslands at certain national park units begin to make a recovery thanks to habitat restoration efforts, so will the wildlife species that depend on those habitats. The bobwhite quail is just one example of a success story among many others.