For over 100 years, Georgia has been a premiere bobwhite quail hunting destination and the Georgia General Assembly even designated the bobwhite as the state game bird in 1970.  During the last 75 years, Georgia’s landscape has gradually changed from a “sea” of bobwhite habitat that occurred primarily as an accidental by-product of land use, to a fragmented landscape comprised of small and often widely separated “islands” or fragments of habitat.  That shift caused bobwhite populations to decline drastically, and consequently, so has the number of bobwhite hunters.  However, there is a lot of interest and momentum for bobwhite restoration occurring and there is plenty of opportunity for success. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resource Division (WRD) is working with landowners through the Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI) to restore habitat for bobwhites, songbirds and other grassland dependent wildlife species.

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Wildlife Biologist James Tomberlin addresses the landowners in attendance at the Silver Lake WMA Field Day.

Longleaf pine once occupied approximately 93 million acres from Virginia to Texas, but has been reduced to about 4 million acres. Longleaf is adapted to and very tolerant of fire and grows on different sites across the southeast. Its fire tolerance and canopy structure make it an excellent timber resource to be used in association with bobwhite management. Stands of longleaf that are planted at appropriate densities and prescribed burned frequently can yield excellent understory groundcover, a necessity for bobwhites and many other wildlife species in decline.

On June 25, 2014, WRD and the Longleaf Alliance hosted a Bobwhites and Longleaf field day at Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area, south of Bainbridge in Decatur County, with 25 landowners in attendance.  The field day was cosponsored by Georgia Forestry Commission, Georgia Power, Lolly Creek Farm, The Joseph Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Quail Forever, Tall Timbers Research Station – Albany Quail Project, and USDA – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  Topics included longleaf pine establishment, bobwhite habitat restoration and management, habitat fragmentation, predator management, supplemental feeding, and managing pine stands for bobwhites.

WRD BQI Biologist Drew Larson describes the specific habitat needs of bobwhites and how habitat size, structure, and distribution affect how suitable an area is for bobwhites: “Research has shown that bobwhites are an area-sensitive species, meaning they need fairly large acreages of mostly contiguous, suitable habitat. Suitable habitat for bobwhites consists of native grasses, herbaceous plants, and scattered patches of shrubby cover that is managed with fire and disking on a 2 to 3-year rotation. This early successional habitat provides nesting, brooding, and protective cover bobwhites require.

“Pine stands can also be managed for bobwhites”, says Larson. “However, there are trade-off costs in reduced revenues from forest and timber products when pine stands are managed at a high intensity for bobwhites. Timber, especially loblolly and slash pine, needs to be maintained at lower volumes to ensure ample sunlight reaches the ground to grow the ground vegetation quail need. Longleaf pine is an excellent tree to manage in conjunction with quail because higher volumes can be maintained and still produce quality groundcover. Longleaf is also very fire tolerant and can be burned at a young age, allowing the frequent fire quail need to be applied throughout the life of the pine stand.”

“Through BQI, we are working with private landowners and land managers to restore and enhance habitat for bobwhites and other wildlife. Restoration efforts are being targeted into Focal Landscapes that have been identified as having the highest potential for success. Obtaining technical assistance from a BQI biologist for the development of a management plan is a great way to start improving bobwhite habitat. ” said Reggie Thackston, WRD Private Lands Program Manager and BQI coordinator.

“Georgia WRD is also placing more emphasis on quail management on select WMA’s in the southwestern part of the state”, says Thackston. “Several WMA’s are in landscapes that make them conducive to successful quail management. Albany Nursery, Chickasawhatchee, Elmodel, River Creek, and Silver Lake WMA’s all have potential for quail restoration. These public lands could also benefit from the newly-formed Florida-Georgia Quail Coalition, a partnership that will provide funding for quail habitat work on public lands from participating Quail Forever chapters.

Learn more about managing your land for bobwhites, the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative in Georgia, and how to support bobwhite restoration efforts in Georgia at the WRD quail website, http://www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/quail. For more information, contact Drew Larson at (478) 296-6176. For information on creating or joining a Quail Forever chapter, contact Talbott Parten at (229) 289-8199.

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