… Forest Management Initiatives Show Promise for Bobwhites, Says NBCI
Substantial progress is being made on the bobwhite restoration front through two national initiatives that some might find surprising – the restoration of native longleaf and shortleaf pine forests in their historic ranges. And the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) is playing an integral role in both, says NBCI Director Don McKenzie.
On July 22, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will moderate a panel discussion in Washington, DC on the last five years of
progress in restoring the nation’s longleaf pine forests, a historically fertile ground for coveys of bobwhites. NBCI Forestry Coordinator Mike Black, in his role as chair of the Longleaf Partnership Council, will be one of the five panelists, “a reflection of NBCI’s active role in longleaf pine forest restoration,” says NBCI Director Don McKenzie.
“The bottom line is that after decades of decline and loss in net longleaf pine acreage, the net acreage for longleaf has begun to increase on a range-wide basis,” said McKenzie, “and that expansion is expected to continue. That’s good news for bobwhites.
“From the beginning, NBCI identified active, purposeful forest management, especially of southern pines, as the most potentially fertile ground for expansion of bobwhite habitat on a landscape scale, hence the NBCI ‘forestry coordinator’ position,” said McKenzie. “Decisions are made by the people who show up, and NBCI has been there representing bobwhites as decisions are made in these two initiatives. And that will pay dividends for bobwhite populations.”
Because of the enormous habitat potential, NBCI and bobwhites have been “at the table” consistently with both the longleaf pine initiative and the newer “shortleaf pine initiative,” with NBCI’s Black actively involved as “senior conservationist” with the shortleaf effort. The shortleaf initiative is expected to deliver a range-wide restoration plan in September. A job announcement has been posted for a director of that initiative, which will be headquartered at the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture, where NBCI is headquartered.
“Most people think of bobwhites in a strictly agricultural setting and that really isn’t the case historically,” said Black. “When fire-dependent longleaf and shortleaf pine forests blanketed millions of acres, those forests were often thick with bobwhites. The frequent fire necessary for both species’ seeds to sprout also created conditions favorable to native grasses and forbs, the ground level conditions required by bobwhites. These pines are slow growing, but also tremendously valuable in the market, which should interest landowners who want a financial return on their efforts but also value wildlife.”
Longleaf pine forests alone once encompassed more than 90 million acres of the North American landscape. Today, only three percent, or 3.4 million acres, remain and, yet, longleaf pine forests represent some of the world’s most biologically diverse ecosystems, providing critical habitat for 29 threatened and endangered species. Also biologically diverse, shortleaf pine forests once covered 281 million acres in 24 states, but have been reduced to six million acres today.