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A Look Back…to Find a Way Forward

"“Puckett circa 1993 – quail trapping””

Photo by Missy McGaw of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

                I  won’t be able to join all my quail peers at the NBGI-TC meeting in Mississippi this July. Family matters take precedence, not to mention I have become averse to long drives and crowds, even when they are composed of friends like many of you. I am retiring effective January 1st of 2025 after over thirty years of working in the “quail business.” Beginning in Summer of 1992 I started what would become my wildlife career. I transitioned from black bears to quail in a very short timeframe and began studying bobwhites at NC State University. Thanks to the kind souls who smiled upon me and realized I had earned a spot there despite my less then genius GRE scores. I tested high in everything that didn’t matter to them…lol. But their chance on me proved good because what I lacked in IQ I made up for in hard work and toughness. GREs don’t measure things like practical skills, commonsense, or work ethic.

                I must have done something right because my work there led to my career here with the Virginia DWR. I’m not sure what else I would have done with all these years, really, as a life in the airborne infantry isn’t something a person is likely to live through for that length of time. I guess I landed where I was supposed to. An old radio personality here in Farmville, Henry Fulcher, was fond of saying “remember friends, wherever you are is right where you are supposed to be, and a smile is no good unless you give it away.” Prior to moving into my current house, I had thirteen different mailing addresses in thirteen years. My rolling stone finally came to rest here in 1996. And my wife and I have now lived in our current home nearly 21 years…the longest either of us ever lived in one place. Our daughter has shared nineteen of those years with us in the only home she has ever known. There’s nothing like having roots in a community.

                My roots have been with this quail community now for decades. The old saying “the days were long, but the years were short” comes to mind. Vivid memories persist making the time seem non-existent. I did some quail trapping this past winter and it did not take long to knock the rust off those old skills, though whipping around until after dark checking traps took more out of me than it did in the mid-90s.  Full circle. It was a nice field season, and one reminding me why I got into this profession. Lots has changed, but lots has not…someone still must go out and catch, count, and help the critters. Computer simulations just won’t do it. Animals quickly starve to death in AI generated habitats. I do not foresee a positive wildlife conservation future without more boots on the ground than butts behind desks. One of my sayings is that “If a biologist is wearing out the seat of his or her pants before the soles of their boots, they’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere.” All kidding aside, we do need those who work at high levels, make tough decisions, and handle politics. And more than anything we need those folks to not lose touch with those of us out in the field. Just about all the bad in our profession comes from that disconnect. And note that it is a two-way street…when is the last time you invited one of your higher ups out in the field with you?

                For some of you who are new to this quail community, it might seem like we’ve done about all we can for quail. And perhaps we begin to think there is only so much that we can do. But to quote General Hal Moore (Google him and find his tenants of leadership chapter to his book “We Were Soldiers Once and Young”) “To affect an outcome in your favor there is always one more thing you can do, then one more, and then one more, and then one more, and then…” When many of us started working on behalf of bobwhites, the NRCS was still known as the Soil Conservation Service and wildlife was never mentioned in their programs. Some of us helped build the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program from the ground up without anything more than a few side rails as guidance. This was the first such program delivered by NRCS. Now we have 10% dedicated funding for wildlife in EQIP, and separate fund pools for many imperiled species, most notably now the bobwhite quail, recently joining others in an elevated status. Looking at CP-33 Buffers for Bobwhites, EQIP, and the Working Lands for Wildlife programs our progress is evident. We have strong quail NGOs funding enormous numbers of farm bill biologist positions. We have land conservation and research institutions pushing the envelope on quail population numbers. And university scientists developing new methods of translocating quail and monitoring them. And we have a new paradigm through NBGI and their foundation as to how to obtain and deliver federal incentives dollars for habitats and help fund state agency land management. The only thing we have to worry about is apathy. It’s time for a new generation of leaders to keep the passion in our profession. I am around for six more months. If there is anything I can help you with between now and then just holler. It’s been a real honor and pleasure to have worked with so many of you and I don’t believe in goodbyes. I plan to see many of you down the road of life somewhere…”Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”

Marc Puckett

Photo by Meghan Marchetti, VDWR

Marc Puckett is a Small Game Project Leader with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDWR).

Marc has worked with VDWR for 25+ years. He currently serves as the small game project co-leader. He was involved in several quail studies, including for his master’s degree at NCSU. He served his country for four years in the US Army’s Airborne Infantry. Marc resides with his family on a farm in central Virginia.