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Study Shows Targeted CRP Practices Can Boost Bobwhite Populations

New research indicates that the nation’s largest private lands conservation program, the USDA Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, can magnify its impacts on bobwhite quail, grassland birds and other wildlife if it is applied to the landscape at scale and in locations already targeted by complementary management activities. The study was commissioned by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and conducted by seven state wildlife agencies, NBCI and the University of Georgia (UGA).

“Although more study needs to be done, these results lend credence to belief that the impact of CRP can be maximized by targeting these programs to working landscapes that are already being managed and monitored,” said acting director of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) Dr. Pat Keyser.

“Now in its 35th year, CRP provides a win-win for both people and the environment by controlling soil erosion, improving water quality and―as we see here―increasing wildlife populations by creating critical habitats,” said USDA’s Farm Service Agency Administrator Richard Fordyce. “This study’s findings are exactly the kind of outcomes we aim for with CRP, proving that the program can lead to great conservation benefits.”

The research shows Farm Bill Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) practices applied on a landscape-scale or “focal area” approach, being demonstrated by the NBCI, have a 78% chance of improving breeding season bobwhite populations and a 95% chance of improving non-breeding season populations.

“Our objectives were to understand how CRP influences northern bobwhite populations at landscape scales to uncover any differences in the efficiency of CRP in focal landscapes versus CRP in unmanaged or reference areas,” said Dr. James Martin, associate professor of UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

“Conservation Reserve Program practices that use native vegetation were much more productive in managed landscapes than unmanaged ones. For example, in a focal area landscape, preliminary results indicate that for every 5% increase in whole-field herbaceous-based CRP practices (e.g., CP2) in a landscape a bobwhite covey is added to the population.”

Dr. Martin said the size of the landscape mattered depending on the season, with any CRP field farther than 1.2 miles away from a local population had no influence in breeding season, while during non-breeding season a CRP field up to five miles away positively impacted the local population.

“This study highlights the importance of the landscape-scale, targeted approach to conservation in farmlands,” said Dr. John Yeiser, UGA research associate, adding the study also demonstrated that CRP in isolation is less efficient than in clusters, and that there may be variability in the impacts of CRP in different regions depending on the amount or arrangement of resources that are complementary to those added by CRP practices.

Participating states with NBCI focal areas were Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas. NBCI’s focal area program requires a minimum of 1,500 acres of managed habitat, an unmanaged reference or control area for comparison and formal habitat and bird monitoring practices. Fifteen focal and reference areas totaling more than 150,000 acres were involved in the study.

For more detail read the full report at https://nbgi.org/download/fsa-bobwhite-report/.

For more detail about the Conservation Reserve Program, visit https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/conservation-programs/conservation-reserve-program/

About NBCI

Headquartered at the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture/Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, NBCI is a science and habitat-based initiative of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC) to elevate bobwhite quail recovery from an individual state-by-state proposition to a coordinated, range-wide leadership endeavor to restore wild bobwhites on a landscape scale. The committee is comprised of representatives of 25 state wildlife agencies, various academic research institutions and private conservation organizations. Support for NBCI is provided by the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program, state wildlife agencies, the Joe Crafton Family Endowment for Quail Initiatives, the University of Tennessee, Quail & Upland Game Alliance, Park Cities Quail and Roundstone Native Seed.

Media Contact: John Doty, jdoty3@utk.edu