Paying it Forward

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Published on: Feb. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 10, 2010

Improving Wildlife Habitat

A prime example of a Farm Bill conservation legacy is the restoration of bobwhite quail to portions of Missouri. Just a few years ago, most Missourians thought that restoration of declining bobwhite quail populations was a lost cause. Instead, Missouri landowners today are seeing the fruits of quail habitat installed through Farm Bill programs. Reports from across the state indicate quail are responding to these habitat efforts, especially where conservation is applied over the landscape on contiguous farms.

Quail employ several techniques to foil predators and one that works particularly well—especially on me—is the flush of the covey. If you have never witnessed a covey flush, it is a sudden burst of confusion, sound and little blurs moving away from you at 55 mph in all directions! Even if you are prepared for the flush, it will startle you. It gets me every time. And it got my son Tony, too, on his first quail hunt. “I didn’t know which one to shoot at!” he shouted when no birds fell in spite of our shooting.

Few fall outdoor activities can beat watching a pointing dog do its thing. It did not matter that we did not drop a bird. Tony got to experience a dog working a field, the lockup on point and the rush of a covey flushing, and that satisfied the both of us. One day soon, he will experience the satisfaction of the harvest. He will get that experience because the federal Farm Bill is helping restore quail habitat, even the habitat on my own farm.

When it comes to my own small farm I try to practice what I preach, and the farm is where I want to share the legacy of hunting with my children. However, I had no quail on the property when I bought it in 2004. So, to help offset some of the cost of restoring quail habitat on this farm I enrolled in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program of the Farm Bill. I received cost-share to convert fescue fields to native grasses and forbs, use timber stand improvement on the forested areas and edge feather the cedar-choked fence lines. The first year of the contract, we worked to convert fescue on two small fields, edge feather and work on one of the blocks of woodland. Within a year, a covey of 10 quail responded. The next year, two coveys were found. During the third year, we completed the fescue eradication on all 11 acres of open fields and had three coveys, each having 15–20 birds.

The Farm Bill provides habitat for more than just quail. Edge feathering and downed tree structures team with cardinals and a variety of other songbirds, which rely on the same habitat as quail. Monitoring of the CRP CP33 habitat practice has shown that declining songbirds such as indigo bunting and field sparrows also benefit from these native grass buffers. Quail are a poster child for almost 140 other species of wildlife that use the same habitats. The Farm Bill also has restored hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands, prairies, glades and savannas. In 2008 alone, it created other kinds of wildlife habitat on 83,132 acres in Missouri. Did you know that the surge in most duck populations since the 1980s is in large part attributed to CRP in the northern Great Plains?

Only the Farm Bill has the funding base necessary to affect landscape-scale changes, whether it be for wildlife habitat, soil erosion, water quality or sustainably managed forests. Without much fanfare, the conservation programs of the Farm Bill are working for you today and will continue to work into the future to benefit the next generations of Missourians.

Oh, and by the way, Tony did get his first bird. “I like quail hunting better than turkey and deer hunting because you get to walk around and see stuff!” he declared. Some days you just have to walk more than others.

To learn more, visit NRCS online.

Missouri Conservation Achievements of the Farm Bill: Soil, Water and Wildlife

WRP - Wetland Reserve Program

$176 million and 126,000 acres of wetland restored

CRP - Conservation Reserve Program

1.45 million acres enrolled, 27.7 million tons of soil/yr saved

GRP - Grassland Reserve Program

10,000 acres of native prairie preserved

CSP - Conservation Stewarship Program

50,000 acres of rice field re-flooding for migrating waterfowl and 15 million linear feet of wildlife field borders

EQIP - Environmental Quality Incentives Program

10,000 acres of timber stand improvement per year

WHIP - Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program

More than $2 million for restoration of degraded glades and savannas

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