It’s pretty cool when people tell you they are seeing more dog boxes in the back of trucks and more hunters in orange vests and hunting chaps at gas stations and restaurants--a good sign there are more quail. That’s the success story the Missouri Department of Conservation and conservation partners have heard from southeast Missouri the past few years.
In 2007, Scott County was recognized as the first county in the nation to achieve its Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative habitat goals. Since 2003, dedicated landowners have established more than 7,000 acres of native grass field borders in this intensive row crop county. Landowners have also completed shrub plantings, edge feathering and left standing grain for quail and other wildlife. Most of this work occurred through the Conservation Security Program (CSP) and the Conservation Reserve Program practice known as CP33. In the words of a Missouri Conservation Commissioner, "Southeast Missouri has created the perfect storm for restoring bobwhite habitat. We need to repeat it elsewhere."
Most of this habitat work would not have been possible if it was not for dedicated landowners and supportive conservation partners like NRCS, FSA and SWCD in Scott County. There's a great story in Quail Forever's magazine on Scott County. In 2008, this special group of individuals from Scott County received the NBCI Group Achievement Award from Quail Unlimited and the Southeast Quail Study Group (now the Northern Bobwhite Technical Committee) for assisting landowners in Scott County with conservation planning that will benefit quail and other wildlife. Below is a picture of FSA, SWCD, NRCS and MDC staff from Scott County with members of the Missouri Quail and Grassland Bird Leadership Council. The quail council is made up of landowners, hunters and conservation and agricultural groups.
As a result of all this habitat work, some quail hunters reported seeing more than one covey per hour in 2007 and again in 2008. That's better hunting than what was reported in southeast Missouri in the 1940s and '50s! A great success story with no mention of predator control, releasing pen-raised birds or other "magic bullets."
Despite all the success, there's still work to be done. Many of the established field borders are ready for a disturbance from strip-disking or prescribed fire. A thick, rank field border is of little value to quail.
Another big challenge was last winter's ice storm. For several weeks southeast Missouri was covered in a sheet of ice that tested the hardiest quail. We'll have to wait until later this spring to see what impact the ice storm had, but at least there's some good habitat for the birds.
Habitat is the Key!