|Friday, June 08, 2012||308 Third Ave • Albany, GA 31701 • (229) 883-3209 • Fax:(229) 883-3979||www.qu.org|
t's the same old story, ...repeated over and over again...
Quail have always been a favorite of many landowners and hunting enthusiasts across the United States. They also serve as an ecological "barometer", indicating a healthy ecological community. Quail use a variety of habitat types, depending primarily on the early and mid-stages of plant succession. An early successional plant community is created as a result of area that has been recently disturbed. It contains grasses and legumes, a wide variety of broadleaf plants, annual weeds and brushy cover, all closely interspersed across the landscape.
One of the great challenges for managers and landowners interested in quail and other early successional species is to maintain the landscape in a stage of plant communities that are most beneficial to quail. There is no mystery to the declining populations of quail and other early successional species; it is in direct correlation with the loss of their habitat. There are multitudes of reasons for the losses, many of which are a result of the changing landscape from early colonial days to our modern society today. The future of quail depends on the creation or maintenance of suitable habitat on private and public lands.
Changes in the American Landscape
Favorable quail habitats were well represented on family farms throughout the country in the 1930s through 50s. Sharecropping and the early century farming practices created a patchwork effect across the countryside that was beneficial to quail and other small game species. The annual disturbances of fields by farming, the frequent use of fire, the somewhat inefficient methods that left weeds and fencerows along the edges and waste grain in the fields created ideal habitat conditions, and quail flourished in those communities. During the Great Depression, many family farms were abandoned as families moved to town or sold their property. The farms left unattended quickly left the early successional stage and rapidly progressed to mid-to late successional plant communities. Many farms were also planted into trees or quickly developed into young forests, eliminating the most conducive stages for quail. Some family farms were combined with other farms to develop larger or, in some instances, corporate farms. In these cases, smaller fields were combined and their fencerow borders eliminated to make room for larger and more efficient equipment. The loss of the family farms and fencerows with their benefits was probably one of the most detrimental losses for quail.
The continued demise of the small subsistence farms and urban sprawl have contributed to a change in the overall landscape of the country. Besides the loss of patchwork farming, former farm fields began to be planted in fescue
Habitat changes are sometimes subtle. Many landowners claim that their farms have not changed in 20 years; however, from the quail perspective, they have had dramatic changes. For instance, some owners claim that a fencerow between fields is still there. Even though the overall location may be the same, if no cutbacks have been made to the fencerow, there have been dramatic changes. What used to be a low growing, relatively narrow strip with weedy edges and an overhead canopy has now turned into a wide sprawling tree row with no ground cover and very little wildlife benefit. Other vegetative and ecological changes take place and sometimes go unnoticed.
Despite a growing awareness of the importance of preserving and improving upland game habitat, more and more quail habitat is lost each year. In addition, severe seasonal weather conditions such as drought and extreme cold can decimate upland bird populations, especially in the fringe of their ranges. Most agencies are still encouraging individual landowners, but more importantly, have also begun to implement wide-ranging "landscape" approaches. The formation of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee and the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative are recent examples of a multitude of partners working together to address quail populations on a regional and national scale.
If you build it...
The decline of quail populations is directly related to the loss of quality habitat. Biologists know how to manage for quail—it is not rocket science. Landowners who want to manage for quail must understand that there are no secret solutions, no magic beans, no super quail and no shortcuts. Habitat management requires hard work, dedication, patience and
Check with your state wildlife agency or your local federal farm office to learn what is available in your area. There are even state and federal incentive programs to assist landowners with their management practices. There have been recent changes in state and federal priorities toward early successional species management. New programs provide additional incentives for landowners to use wildlife-friendly practices on their properties.
If you are concerned about declining quail populations, then come join us at Quail Unlimited, America's Leader in Quail Conservation. Join the thousands of members, hundreds of chapters and dozens of conservation partners in helping to restore America's quail populations for future generations.
You might want to review some of our recent accomplishments and see just how much has been done through our members, chapters and partners. Quail is not our business; it's our life, at Quail Unlimited!