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Roundtable: The Two Worlds of Bobwhite Management

By Mark D. JonesMark Jones

North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

The following blog is the ending text of Part Two of two articles recently published in the January/February and March/April 2012 issues of Wildlife in North Carolina magazine. I hoped to address questions from landowners, the public, and hunters about “what has happened to bobwhite quail in our state” as well as provide some thoughts on moving forward to do something about the decline. Most of this information will be of no surprise to biologists, but conveying it to the general public remains a challenge for us all. Both articles can be read in their entirety at the following links

                There are two bobwhite worlds that exist today. In one world, intensive habitat management does produce bobwhites given adequate landowner commitment, finances, and acres. Scores of these areas exist throughout the South, and we have many here in North Carolina. The average hunter will not set foot on these, and if you have access to such areas count yourself among the fortunate few. What we should learn from these areas is that there is no mystery about how to produce quail – the challenge is paying for it over larger areas.

That leads us to world number two: “The Real World.” This covers the vast majority of quail range where common land use practices are driven by economics that determine the fate of quail. Lands are managed here by farmers, ranchers, and forest owners in ways they believe are economically sound. Whether biologists, hunters, and wildlife enthusiasts agree with this management does not matter. Putting food on the table, sending children to college, and paying the loan on the tractor, truck, and seed comes first. I say this with no disrespect because I think most Americans would do the same. 

To address quail in this “Real World,” we are left with two options. One is to directly pay landowners for quail-friendly habitat. That has been done to varying degrees in many states, but it is expensive and rarely sustainable over the long-term. Some experts believe this is the future of quail management and the only chance for the species. Time will tell if they are right, and at least we have this option.

I still have hope of another promising option. If adopted, it would be more sustainable over time and benefit more acres, people, and other wildlife species. It involves finding economically sensible alternatives to current land management practices. No-till planting, filter strips on cropland, conversion of sod-forming fescue and Bermuda grass to native bunch grasses, and thinning and burning of woodlands are examples quail biologists know well. These practices benefit not just quail but also a host of declining species.

Unfortunately, these and other practices are not common on a high percentage of our landscape. Perhaps we have not identified the right practices or presented the right economic arguments. Clearly, we have a long way to go in terms of reaching out to landowners and developing reasons for them to change standard practices. We must continue to search for more information about economically smart land management alternatives and hope for a little luck along the way. 

For quail and associated species to ever recover, government agencies, quail hunters, songbird enthusiasts, and landowners must all work together to find these economically sensible reasons for private landowners to do things differently. Changes must address practices on crops fields, pastures, and forested lands. It will take a combination of persistence, hard work, and planning for bobwhites to once again return to prominence in North Carolina and throughout their range in the South.