Over the past 40 years, quail have nearly vanished from their former ranges. Isolated pockets of quail remain in the Southeast, and it's pretty easy to see why in those areas – lack of human intrusion and good habitat are keys – but even those birds face challenge as predators have spread across the landscape; raptors are protected and few trappers remain to control furbearers.
The N.C. Wildlife Habitat Foundation is the latest group to take on the challenge of returning quail to their former habitat. Eddie Bridges of Greensboro, a former member of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and head of the NCWHF, has gathered several former Quail Unlimited chapters under his group's umbrella and started a Quail Habitat Fund to help members get quail re-started on their properties.
Mark Jones of Craven County, the biologist in charge of quail for the Commission who was keynote speaker at the NCWHF's annual banquet in March is an enthusiastic supporter of the project.
"Bobwhite quail have been declining 2.9 percent per year from Virginia to Texas," he said, pointing at a lack of good small-game habitat as the major curse. "If your quail numbers decline 2.9 percent over a 30-year period, you can see they have to be in trouble.
"We are stitching together a bunch of landscapes (in southeastern North Carolina) on the private level, and I think it can work," he said. "(The Commission) would like to partner with the Foundation as it moves forward in this project. I believe this group could create a landowner/quail success story if you follow these ideas, but it's going to take intensive efforts.
The Commission attempted in the last 15 years to stem the decline of quail habitat by establishing the Cooperative Upland habitat Restoration and Enhancement (CURE) program and funding it with $2 million from the Wildlife Endowment Fund to try to improve quail populations by establishing habitat on three "landscape" sized areas across the state. The theory was that if quail could be re-established, they might spread into adjoining areas and the population might expand.
CURE accomplished half of its goal - it created three large quail/small-game-friendly habitats at Turnersburg in Iredell County, Benthall Plantation in Northampton County and what's now called the Southeastern Focal Area - Holly Shelter Game Land in Pender County, Suggs Mill Pond Game Land in Bladen County and nearby small-farm land acreages in Sampson County. CURE also funded habitat efforts at other game lands, such as the Caswell Game Lands.
One problem with CURE, Jones said, was that the Commission ran out of money to pay landowners to convert their land to good small-game habitat. He remains convinced that large-scale landscape projects offer the best solution, That's one reason he's excited about the NCWHF's Quail Habitat Fund – if the effort enrolls enough participating landowners.
Jones highlighted a few ways landowners could help provide what quail that remain with better habitat.
• Landowners can leave field edges grown up instead of cultivating every square foot of soil into tillable land;
• Prescribed, controlled burnings can provide quail with good habitat;
• Reduce the amount of fescue planted for cattle;
• Consider establishing openings inside wooded areas;
• Leave areas fallow where quail can forage for insects.
"If you think all you need to do is go out and plant food plots for quail, you'll likely be disappointed," he said. "You can't manage for maximum timber volume and have quail at the same time."