ODWC 10-point Quail Restoration Plan
Population surveys show quail numbers are down over most of the state, a trend observed throughout the entire southeastern United States. Even with recent declines, Oklahoma is one of the few remaining states where hunters can pursue relatively large numbers of wild quail. Hunters harvest an estimated one to two million birds a year in the state, which consistently ranks nationally in the top three for harvest.
"More than 95 percent of the state's land is privately owned, and those landowners aren't going to spend $100 an acre to convert their CRP, pastures and wheat fields back into native rangeland without some kind of monetary incentive," said Alan Peoples, wildlife chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Realistically, you can't hope to address quail habitat without focusing on the private landowner, and that's going to take incentive payments."
Peoples said that a recent study commissioned by the directors of state fish and wildlife agencies in the southeastern U.S. determined that to stabilize quail populations at levels seen in 1980, hundreds of millions of dollars would need to be spent on private lands habitat assistance programs. In Oklahoma, for example, the study suggests that spending $234 million to enhance several million acres of land, much of it CRP, could conceivably result in an estimated 204,000 new coveys.
"We've got about a million acres of CRP, primarily in western Oklahoma, and much of it is poor quail habitat," Peoples said. "Folks hear 'CRP' and they think, good quail hunting. The problem is that much of Oklahoma's CRP was planted to Old World Bluestem and other non-native grasses.
"Quail don't like Old World Bluestem, just like they don't like Bermuda or fescue. Weedy native pastures provide more food and cover, but there aren't too many landowners and farmers who want weedy, overgrown pastures."
He added that quail are only one of a number of prairie species that have experienced declining populations in response to habitat loss. Declining numbers of prairie chicken, prairie dog, burrowing owl, mountain plover and long-billed curlew are all indicators that significant landscape changes have degraded the state's prairie habitat. States such as Texas, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska also have seen similar habitat alterations, leading many biologists to call for intensified prairie habitat improvement initiatives.
"Wildlife will respond if they are provided with the right habitat conditions," Peoples said. "Quail are no different. We can reverse the trend, but we have to make the financial commitment to do so."
10-Point Quail Initiative Activities
1. Educate landowners, sportsmen and policy makers on the status of bobwhite quail and other grassland bird species.
2. Use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to identify areas for habitat improvement based on the likelihood of success for increasing localized quail populations. - QHRI focal areas
3. Seek funding to improve quail habitat on private land and provide incentives for landowners to enhance habitat.
4. Educate landowners and natural resource professionals on quail habitat requirements, management techniques and practices that harm quail habitat. Click here to download the Comprehensive Quail Habitat Management Booklet (pdf) and Click here to print off or download OSU's Habitat Appraisal Guide for Bobwhite Quail
5. Establish private land demonstration sites for bobwhite quail management.
6. Promote existing landowner incentive/cost-share programs to benefit quail.
7. Work to perpetuate the wise use of prescribed burning to improve quail habitat.
8. Support the Red Cedar Coalition in controlling the invasive Eastern red cedar.
9. Work cooperatively with agriculture agencies to modify conservation planting and existing programs to better enhance quail habitat.
10. Work with public utilities and the Department of Transportation to develop right-of-way management practices that conserve nesting habitat for quail and other grassland birds.