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Quail Provide Impetus for Landscape Conservation Efforts
AUSTIN, Texas — Quail are considered by wildlife officials to be a keystone indicator species of the health of grassland ecosystems. When their numbers fall, other species that inhabit those ecosystems follow in a domino effect. A diverse cooperative, working under the umbrella of the Texas Quail Conservation Initiative, is making landscape level conservation progress to help ensure the dominos won’t topple.
During the past three years, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has developed a proactive strategy to address quail declines in Texas. The agency’s approach has been one of partnership. Several state, federal, and private entities including private landowners have come together to form the Texas Quail Conservation Initiative (TQCI). By bringing all stakeholders to the table, the initiative can focus on landscape level conservation that minimizes duplicative effort and maximizes resources.
The Texas Quail Council and the Quail Technical Support Committee are the main facilitating bodies of this initiative. The Council, appointed by the Chairman of the Parks and Wildlife Commission as an official advisory group, has provided advice and guidance in developing the initiative and helps identify and overcome roadblocks to recovery; while the Technical Committee assures the plan is based on good science.
“The work that’s been accomplished in three short years through this initiative has been impressive and is a benchmark for other states to follow,” said Robert Perez, TPWD quail program biologist. “By bringing together all the quail minds at the same table, we’ve now got a clearinghouse in Texas for upland bird recovery and conservation.”
Quail Council members have interacted with national conservation policy makers to provide valuable input regarding the criteria for various cost incentive programs on private lands that would benefit quail and grassland birds. Resulting programs, like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Emphasis Areas, have distributed millions of dollars to Texas landowners over the past couple of year resulting in more upland game bird habitat on the ground.
“We have to be able to use incentive programs like the Farm Bill, EQIP and our Landowner Incentive Program to demonstrate how converting pastures back to native vegetation and providing usable habitat for wildlife can pay dividends directly to the landowner,” said Steve DeMaso, upland game bird program leader for TPWD. “We also have to get the support of sportsmen by educating them to the fact that conservation programs for other species are also beneficial for quail and other game species.”
Examples of these education and outreach efforts can be found in two prominent quail conservation posters. One poster can be found displayed in Natural Resource Conservation Service offices around the country, thanks to proactive efforts by the Quail Council and another, dedicated to native habitat restoration initiatives promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, carries First Lady Laura Bush’s signature and a personal message to encourage cooperative conservation and habitat restoration.
Then Council has been proactive in encouraging TPWD program staff to work with the Railroad Commission, TXU and ALCOA to help improve restoration practices on Texas mined lands for early succession species. The director of the state mining association was appointed by the TPW Commission Chairman to the Council and a biologist from the mining industry serves on the Technical Committee.
“Mined lands serve as repositories of locally adapted quail which can be used in future translocation projects where local quail are not available,” said DeMaso. “Mined lands in other states may also be able to use this model to create habitat.”
The Council provided valuable input and guidance in the development of the Texas Quail Conservation Strategic Plan, and the publication of the popular version of the document “Where Have All The Quail Gone?” to promote quail conservation across the state. These plans are being distributed throughout the state via numerous venues to facilitate reaching interested landowners and managers.
According to Vernon Bevill, small game and habitat assessment program director with TPWD, another example of public and private partnerships involved Texas Governor Rick Perry autographing 200 Jack Cowan quail prints that were donated to the initiative for fundraising efforts. These prints are being sold through the Texas Wildlife Association, Collector’s Covey, Texas Quail Unlimited and by Council members. The TWA Foundation volunteered services as the ordering point as well as serve as the holder of these funds in a separate dedicated account on behalf of the Texas Quail Initiative.
As part of the Texas Quail Plan, the Council has encouraged development of Quail Demonstration Areas on public and private lands and portions of both the Chaparral and Matador Wildlife Management Areas are being developed for this purpose. Funds from the initiative have helped purchase farm implement equipment to facilitate this work.
In addition, Audubon Texas, also a member of the Council, hired a full time biologist to help implement the TQCI by acting as a catalyst to form quail management cooperatives across the state.
Following initiation of the Texas Quail Council, the TQC model has been emulated by other states as an effective means of developing their own quail recovery and implementation plans.
In recognition for its efforts, the Council received the First Annual Group Achievement Award from Quail Unlimited National in March of 2005.
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