Collaboration launches new bobwhite quail conservation initiative


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Posted: 8/7/2003


An agreement signed today [Aug. 7] is establishing a major regional bobwhite quail conservation initiative to be directed by Mississippi State University with oversight by the USDA's Wildlife Habitat Management Institute.

The agreement enables wildlife researchers at the university to coordinate conservation efforts with more than 20 state, federal and other conservation partners.

WHMI is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"Hunting northern bobwhite in Mississippi and other Southeastern states is both a socially and economically significant sport that is steeped in tradition," said MSU avian ecologist Wes Burger. "The sport, however, is threatened by declining populations of the game bird.

A Forest and Wildlife Research Center professor and bobwhite quail specialist, Burger said the new initiative seeks to develop quantitative, habitat-oriented restoration of bobwhite quail populations. The conservation project builds on a national bobwhite quail recovery plan developed by the Southeast Quail Study Group, a cooperative of more than 100 professionals at universities, private organizations, and state and federal agencies, he added.

Support for the program originated with last year's Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, in which Congress included a stipulation that conservation programs seek improvement of northern bobwhite quail habitat on private working lands. Sen. Thad Cochran [R-Miss.] was instrumental in providing support for the initiative.

Burger said bobwhite populations in the Southeast have declined over the past three decades at an annual rate of nearly 4 percent. To reverse that trend and attempt to restore bird populations to 1980 levels, national habitat and populations goals will be stepped down to 22 bird conservation regions which comprise the bobwhite's range.

"Individual states will have the responsibility for implementing the habitat and populations goals within their boundaries, Burger said.

Burger said the initiative "is the first landscape-scale habitat restoration and population recovery plan for northern bobwhites in the United States. Achieving the restored population numbers will require an impact on about 7 percent of 81.1 million acres of farm, forest and rangeland.

These changes will be accomplished through incentive and cost-share provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill and state-level initiatives.

To meet the goal, the initiative will depend on land management actions by agricultural producers and non-industrial, private forest landowners. The major limiting factor on bobwhite populations "is the insufficient nesting and brood-rearing habitat over most of the bird's range, Burger said.

The agreement signed at MSU establishes the framework of cooperation among partners to evaluate the initiative's implementation. A separate agreement between WHMI and MSU in the amount of $500,000 will provide the funds to conduct state-level evaluations of the effort.

Bruce D. Leopold, wildlife and fisheries department head, said Mississippi State's selection to coordinate the project recognizes the university's longstanding investigations into quail ecology and wildlife values of federal farm conservation programs.

"Our department has conducted bobwhite quail research for more than 18 years and has achieved a national stature for our expertise, Leopold said.

"The memos of understanding have a five-year life span, and I look forward to five very productive years working closely with Mississippi State University, the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Quail Unlimited to help preserve and enhance bobwhite and wildlife habitat in Mississippi and the other Southeastern states, said Bruce I. Knight of Washington, D.C., chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

In addition to MSU and the NRCS, other partners in the initiative include South Carolina-based Quail Unlimited Inc. and the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in Tallahassee, Fla., the umbrella organization for the Southeast Quail Study Group.

NEWS EDITORS/DIRECTORS: For more information, telephone Dr. Burger at (662) 325-8782 or Dr. Leopold at 325-2615.

Wildlife and Fisheries