Texas Farmers’ Help Sought For Quail Conservation

Tom Harvey, 512-389-4453, tom.harvey@tpwd.texas.gov

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AUSTIN, Texas — On Aug. 29 in Missouri, bobwhite quail supporters from Texas and other southeastern states will present a case study on a nationwide push to save quail at the White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation, one of only a handful of wildlife case studies to make the conference agenda.

Here in Texas, row crop farmers may hold the key to frontline quail conservation through a new federal habitat buffer program that was personally endorsed by President Bush last year. So far, only about 1,000 acres out of a possible 20,000 have been signed up in Texas. Looking at the glass half full, that means there’s still plenty of opportunity for Texas to get engaged before the 2007 deadline.

Throughout their range, bobwhite quail populations nationwide have declined from an estimated 59 million birds in 1980 to about 20 million in 1999.

“What’s really happening here is not the loss of one bird, but the steady loss of a type of prairie grass and savannah habitat that supports many other birds and animals,” said Steve DeMaso, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department upland game bird program leader.

DeMaso and quail counterparts from other states and universities will speak at the upcoming White House Conference, which takes place in St. Louis Aug. 29-31. They’ll be telling attendees that all through the 35 states in the southeastern U.S. where quail once thrived, concrete and cropland have been replacing native range, and quail are becoming “recreationally extinct,” meaning they’re so few that landowners and hunters are hard pressed to find any.

The fact that the quail cause has shown up on White House radar is no accident. It follows years of work building grassroots and government support, resulting in the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, a recovery plan for quail published in 2002. Texas this year unveiled its own plan, “The Texas Quail Conservation Initiative: A Proactive Approach to Restoring Quail Populations by Improving Wildlife Habitat.”

Last August, the president announced “Practice CP-33–Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds” as part of the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program under the federal farm bill. The goal is 250,000 acres of grass buffers along agricultural field borders nationwide.

“This isn’t a complete solution, and it’s not the only tactic urged by the quail plan, but it’s a key first step to make agricultural landscapes more quail friendly,” DeMaso said.

The CP-33 program will pay farmers to plant 30-to-120-foot wide buffers around their fields with native warm-season grasses, legumes, wildflowers, forbs, and limited shrub and tree plantings, as specified in the program plan. Participants get incentive payments of up to $100 per acre just for signing up. They get more payments after planting the buffers, and again annually during the 10-year contract. The deadline to sign up is Dec. 31, 2007.

"I think one of the main reasons we've had so little acreage signed up in Texas is that people don't know about it," said Chuck Kowaleski, TPWD farm bill coordinator. "We're hoping this will provide hunting opportunities and revenue for landowners. Especially in the Rolling Plains, they're making as much on quail hunting–sometimes more–as they are on deer hunting. About 600 of the 964 Texas acres enrolled are in Runnels County near Abilene. The local FSA there is promoting it."

Kowaleski said farmers should contact their local Farm Services Administration (FSA) office to sign up for the CP-33 Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds program.

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