Dr. Mark Costley grew up in the small Southwest Missouri town of Monett. He attended high school there and was part of a state championship football team in 1971. After high school he left for Columbia, Mo., to attend the University of Missouri. After graduating medical school at Mizzou and completing his residency at Duke in North Carolina, he found himself, along with his wife Terre, back in that same small Southwest Missouri town beginning a new practice as a family M.D.
Mark would tell you that Monett hasn’t changed a great deal, while it has grown larger and offers a few more amenities and attractions than it did when he was a kid; the one thing that has changed is the quail hunting that he and his dad once enjoyed. Much like the rest of Southwest Missouri, the landscape has changed. Urban sprawl has played a factor; the growing cow/calf numbers in Lawrence County and fescue, the forage base of choice for many Southwest Missouri producers, have played a part. Mark decided he would like to have some of those good memories back. He wanted to see and hear more bobwhites on his place.
His farm is 180 acres of mixed pastures, hay lands, old fields and woodlands, pretty indicative of the area. As a practicing family physician, work is time-consuming and sometimes stressful, so the farm has become a place of stress relief and recreation. Dr. Costley and his family find the acreage to be a place of solitude where they garden, hunt and recreate throughout the year. While it is a working farm, he has the operation under lease with a local producer who is in the beef cattle business raising registered Angus cattle. The operation is an income source, but the cattle have become a tool for Mark to use in managing the farm for bobwhite habitat. Mark and I began our discussion back in 2003 looking at the steps that might be taken to bring the quail back. As far as he knew, he thought he had one covey. This was based on the fact he generally heard a bird or two whistling in the spring and summer and sometimes saw a pair or two, but often they were nowhere to be found in the fall. After developing a plan he began the process. He applied for and was successful in securing LAP funds through MDC in FY2006 and used the MDC250 practice to open up some of his old fields that had become dense in woody cover, especially red cedar. He then converted several acres of his fescue to native grass and forb mixes with MDC400 and 450. These fields have since been prescribe-burned a couple times and are developing quite nicely. In 2009, he was a successful applicant in the EQIP sign-up. Through EQIP he was able to install a well, pipeline and tanks, and fencing to develop a planned grazing system. Korean Lespedeza was no-till drilled into mixed cool-season grass pastures and hay fields. Better grazing management is now possible with a mixture of mixed cool season grass/legume pastures and native grass/forb plantings. Before all the grazing lands were grazed continuously and as one big pasture unit. Now these fields are divided into eight units with six of those seeing a grazing rotation while the other two (one warm-season unit and one cool-season) are being hayed. About 19 acres of open woodlands considered Upland Flatwoods have been treated with a combination forest grinder and heavy fuel wood cutting. The grinder was able to clean up a great deal of the slash and storm debris from storm damage. This activity coupled with fuel wood cutting has opened up the canopy significantly and the restoration of these acres is well underway. He hopes to get some fire through these in the coming year.
Deer and turkey are also numerous on the property, and with the woodland work, edge feathering, introduction of legumes, additional food plots and green browse plot establishment we have seen a positive response from them as well. Mark is fortunate, too, in that he has neighbors on three sides who are interested in managing their lands in a way that contribute to the overall wildlife habitat on the local landscape.
During 2010 we worked with the Monett High School FFA chapter, and they applied for and were awarded a Sportsmen League Grant to use in some bobwhite quail field day activities on the Costley farm, which is just a couple miles up the road from the high school. A series of classroom activities along with field events on the farm brought a greater understanding of the plight of the bobwhite to these students. The activities included an introduction to telemetry and discussing the data potential for the quail researcher in the use of this equipment. Students used the Quail WHAG to assess the farm habitat and make recommendations as to what the practices were doing to improve conditions and what else might be prescribed for future management. Some of those decisions were used to establish some annual food plots along with a perennial native forb plots for food and brood cover.
The results of this effort have shown a marked increase in bird numbers with the best year since initiation of habitat work boasting five coveys on his 180-acre farm. Weather has prevented this from happening since, but three coveys have been the average since 2006.
Mark also has a passion for the bluebirds and maintains 10 to 12 bluebird houses on the property. In his best year Mark says he fledged as many as 70 youngsters and is very proud of his accomplishment with this project. Mark likes to build things and has also used the MDC plans to build and install a double-sided bat house. He’s not sure at this point whether anything has taken up residence there yet, but he is hopeful.
With landowners like Mark in Southwest Missouri, bobwhites certainly have a better chance of making a comeback, and a whole suite of wildlife species are reaping the benefit.