Across the southeastern United States, bobwhite quail have been increasingly rare to see in the past few decades. So in 2002, state and federal conservation and agriculture agencies and conservation groups put together a dramatic plan to bring back the bobwhite by changing the landscape and creating the kind of habitat they need to live. The plan was called the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI).
Now, just a few years later, the dream of bringing back bobwhite quail is a reality in Scott County, Mo. In fact, they’re the first county in the United States to meet the NBCI's 20-year goals. Maybe most impressive is that they did it in a Mississippi River floodplain county that was largely covered by crops, with very little in the way of other plants along the waterways and fence rows.
Since the effort began there in 2004, farmers planted more than 7,000 acres of field borders and other strips and edges of land with mixes of native grasses and wildflowers. In some places they added shrubs.
It was made possible by local landowners getting help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Scott County Soil and Water Conservation District. The USDA’s Conservation Security Program (CSP) made financial support possible for the planting efforts.
Helping Missourians keep our wildlife healthy is one of the key goals of the Missouri Conservation Department. In the case of this national quail effort, our job was to help people put it into practice where they live—to turn a big idea into something real. Bill White, Missouri Conservation Private Lands Program supervisor, passed along some some views of the local folks who have seen the results.
“When we are working the fields we are seeing quail everywhere.” (Scott County farmer)
“Before CSP came along I would find a covey during a typical half day hunt, now it’s three to four coveys in a half-day.” (Scott County hunter)
“It’s amazing what increasing a bird species can do for local communities. Just like the regular tourists, hunters coming to the different communities spend money at the gas stations, restaurants, stores and so on.” (Chamber of Commerce executive director in Sikeston, Mo.)