By: Justin Bryan
As we all know, the African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child” is an understatement. A village (relatives, neighbors, and others) provides a wealth of valuable knowledge and experiences, creating an ideal opportunity for a child to achieve a happy and productive life. As I reflected on this, I concluded that much the same technique has to be used to create the opportunity for wild populations of quail (bobwhite and scaled) to grow and excel on private property.
It is well documented that wild quail populations are declining throughout their native ranges including Texas, Oklahoma, and the southeast U.S. According to the Texas Quail Initiative, bobwhite populations in the Lone Star State are declining at a rate of 5.6% per year, while scaled quail populations are declining at a rate of 2.9% per year. Quail are considered an r-selected species having a very high mortality rate of 70 – 80% depending on variables such as habitat, weather, predators, etc. which is generally offsite by high reproductive rates. (1) So what is causing the drop in quail populations?
As a game bird beloved by many outdoor enthusiasts, a mass collaborative effort has begun by researchers and private landowners throughout these regions to try to gain an understanding of how best to stabilize the declining populations which have been heavily impacted by less than ideal conditions such as drought, declining habitat, and parasitic influences.
To provide the opportunity to be successful in this endeavor, it takes a “village” of private landowners and/or lessees of ranches and farms to simply maintain numbers and, in ideal years – climatically speaking – to provide the chance for those birds to flourish; properties where the owner and/or lessees value the existence of quail and invest substantial money, time, and other valuable resources to both sustain numbers year-in, year-out but also to increase populations. I can say without a doubt that here in Texas the “village” approach has been accepted with open arms. Ongoing research projects and cooperation between researchers and landowners in north and south Texas – the two last strongholds for quail populations in Texas – have proliferated throughout the region.
At the forefront of these efforts in the Texas panhandle is the Quail-Tech Alliance – a joint partnership between the Department of Natural Resources at Texas Tech University and 25 ranches encompassing 38 Texas counties thereby directly or indirectly influencing approximately 22 million acres of rangeland and farmland. Ranches such as the W. T. Waggoner, Mill Iron, Pitchfork, 6666’s, and the Tongue River Ranch, to name a few, have made the decision to allow use of their land for research purposes, and to manage their private rangeland and farmland to learn more about and positively influence native quail populations.
Headed south, quail restoration efforts in south Texas are profoundly influenced by researchers at Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute (CKWRI)/Texas A&M University Kingsville. Within CKWRI, the staff of the Richard M. Kleberg Jr. Center for Quail Research direct the largest research program in the world that is focused on the habitat and population ecology of wild quails.
The farm and ranch managers within the Hall and Hall Resource Management Group are part of this village, as we invest a great deal of our time to learn about management techniques that enhance wildlife habitat on rural properties. Whether it is quail, deer or a fishery, we recognize that wildlife can be as important as crop production in creating value on a ranch or farm.
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(1) Cited Robertson, Roy , Southeast Farm Press, ”Where have all the quail gone?”, March 5, 2008 http://southeastfarmpress.com/where-have-all-quail-gone