Few things stir my passion for habitat management like quail restoration. When we created the Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation (QUWF) Buffalo Bob chapter in rural Dallas County, we wanted to address the loss of quality habitat for all upland wildlife using a land-management model based on bobwhite quail. The successional and ground disturbance needs of quail also benefit other wildlife species including deer, turkey, dove, rabbits, squirrels and a host of songbirds. Trained biologists and private land conservationists from the Conservation Department and QUWF prepared a 10-year plan that now looks at all species for private landowners.
The QUWF chapter now has thousands of acres undergoing annual habitat work. The chapter also recently formed the Niangua River Basin Focus Area to join contingent landowners for maximum impact. “We have good quail populations responding to the habitat work and are approaching 8,000 acres in direct handson management of the chapter. Turning the dirt is what it takes,” says Nick Prough, chief wildlife biologist for QUWF. Landowners submit habitat reports and photos each year so that members can track progress during monthly meetings.
The Conservation Department’s Quail Habitat Initiative, a step-down plan from the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, got it all started by helping QUWF members get cost share. “I doubt we could have kindled so much passion without the Conservation Department and its guidance for landowners,” says Warren Valenti, a former Conservation Department private land conservationist for the area.
When I bought my farm 17 years ago there were no quail on the property, but I did see them along the road and in adjoining pastures. I had grown-over post oaks, abandoned glades covered with eastern red cedars and hardly any openings on the nearly 200 acres. Deer paths were the only access routes. Much has changed thanks to years of habitat management.
Today the nearly 200 acres has 10 acres of open grasses, 40 acres of maintained breeding and brooding areas, 40 acres of oak savannah, and three, 1.5- to 2-acre food plots around the property. Soon after we created our first edge areas, a covey of quail took up residence on the 10-acre strip, as did a doe and her fawn.
Continuing the habitat work, the first 4-acre rock glen was cleared of cedar. Wildflowers provided a great quail and turkey bugging area. “Chain saws are a must around here; many of them, all the time,” says Tracy Watkins, an adjoining land owner whose habitat work was as heavy as mine. Food and quality cover began to produce good wildlife populations throughout the area.
My hearing is not the best from lots of flying and sporting clays events, so I have to see birds flushing or dashing along the ground to grade my work, and now I do. Luckily, my friends also saw what was happening years ago and began buying land around me. They are active habitat stewards, so the affected area expanded exponentially.
Today you can see habitat work that includes native warm-season grass conversions, fescue eradication, edge feathering, timber stand improvement, oak savannahs, food plots, and controlled burns, and the work pays off for many species.
In 2010 the landowners of the QUWF chapter spent more than $100,000 in habitat work. “These landowners don’t stop. This is not CRP ground either, it is get your hands dirty, chain saw running, sweat-causing terrain you have to love for wildlife,” says Prough.
Why do we do this? All of us want the next generation to experience wildlife in Missouri as it should be. Our sons and daughters, grandchildren and friends can be seen most weekends working on habitat projects large and small. We now estimate, from that first Conservation Department $2,500 matching Quail Habitat Initiative grant and private landowners’ plans, chapter members and the chapter have invested more than $250,000 in habitat management in recent years, with no signs of slowing down on the horizon.
Learn more about managing your own land for wildlife at mdc.mo.gov/node/90.
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