Translocation as an Option

I have been asked why I hunt preserves so much and why don’t I talk about my wild bird hunting exploits more. The reason is that they are not all that interesting to read about because of the too few bird contacts. As we all know the Bobwhite Quail has been in serious decline throughout its native range. This decline has been going on for decades and it is well documented. There has been more written about the decline of Bobwhite and all the causes. These range from predators to habitat to farming practices to disease and the list goes on..

  There has been a lot of time, effort and money put into the reversal of the decline here in South East North Carolina. Our local Quail Forever chapter has been helping finance habitat improvement projects with the Wildlife Commision since the chapter was founded in 2005. All this has failed to increase the numbers of birds on the game lands where the projects have been done and continue to be done. We won’t give up and there will be no surrender.

 The N.C. Wildlife Commission (NCWRC) has a program that is called the Cooperative Upland Habitat Restoration and Enhancement  (CURE) program. The program is supposed to address the loss of early- success​ional habitat that different species require to thrive. The Bobwhite is the standard bearer of this program. The program has gone through some changes over the years and now has a cooperative with large agriculture properties in four counties as more farms have joined the program.

The flagship property is in Bladen county on the Murphy Brown farm and hunting there is by permit only.

 Recently my friend and I had our permits drawn and we got to hunt the farm. I was pretty enthusiastic to have been drawn and was looking forward to this hunt from the time that I was informed to the day of the hunt. Now this is an active hog farm. There are large tracts of agriculture as the farm grows corn to use as feed for their operation. If I remember correctly this farm has 80,000 hogs at different stages of life and the amount of acreage is somewhere around 4500 acres. To say that this is a large farm would be an understatement.

As you pull up to the farm you can see where the habitat conservation areas are. Both sides of every ditch are left weedy and they run the entire length of each ditch. There are a lot of ditches and there is a lot of area in this program. There are also some fields that are managed for the habitat and a few stands of longleaf pines. To be honest the longleaf area is pretty small and could use some expansion.

So after a tour of the farm and discussion with the biologist that is required to be with you we step off into one of the fields in hopes to reap the benefits of this signature property. We are about a half an hour in when we enter a field. My friend and I split up and cover each side of the field. I am moving ahead of him and my dog crosses the field near the end of a burm. Just as he gets wind up goes a covey of about 15 birds They flushed out of range of me and my 28 gauge. My friend didn’t even see them because of his orientation. It was exciting to finally see some wild birds and I felt like this was the promise of more to come.

I was wrong. These were the only birds that we saw all day. In fact after almost five hours behind two dogs we only saw one rabbit and no more birds.

The results of this day were to say the least very disappointing. I went into this thinking that with all the time and money that is put into this property the numbers would be something that would at least be one flush every two hours not one in five. This got me thinking about all the work that has gone into the habitat with no increase in the birds.

I am not writing this to sound like I am complaining about the bird numbers because that would be too easy. I am not writing this to point out flaws in the programs that are in place to try and improve the situation. That would be too easy. I am writing this to say that we need to try something else.

I am a fan of fire ecology.The planting of longleaf pine and wiregrass are great to build habitat. The planting of partridge pea and plum thickets are other great plantings that help with the habitat. These are examples of what the NCWRC and QF have done over the years. All to no avail.

So with the habitat having been established in many areas and it continues to be improved in others why haven’t the birds responded. I believe it is because the numbers are so low that the coveys are not there. The habitat is there but the birds aren’t.

This brings me to a project that I have brought up to the local biologist from the NCWRC. The project is translocation. This project DOES NOT involve pen raised birds. This project involves wild birds caught in areas where they are doing well and moved into the habitat that has been established and released to populate the new area.

This type of project has been successful for multiple species from big game like Elk all the way down to the wild turkey in North Carolina. These projects have been so successful that the NCWRC is talking about an Elk season and they just translocated turkeys to Texas. So if this type of project is so successful for other species why has it not been tried in North Carolina for Bobwhite Quail? That I do not have a factual answer for and my opinion is not what I want this to be about.

This type of project has been studied by Tall Timbers research institute and has met with success in multiple areas from Georgia to Maryland. Why not North Carolina? Again I don’t have a factual answer just an opinion.

After all this I would like this to be a call to action for the people of North Carolina and the rest of Quail country where the numbers have fallen and are not responding. Go to the meetings that are held for public input about what people would like to see done and bring up translocation of quail on public lands. If money for the project is mentioned talk about the Pittman – Robertson money that is available along with conservation groups that assist in funding. There are organisations such as Quail Forever and the National Wild Turkey Federation that raise funds to support the efforts of the Wildlife Commission. These are only two of the organisations that could team up to help fund these projects. So get involved and let your Commission know that something new needs to be done to help improve the situation and that the status quo is not making the improvements that we want and should be seeing.


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