LITTLE ROCK – Arkansans of a certain age remember the familiar whoosh of northern bobwhite coveys flushed from fields. That invigorating experience is driving some of them, including Fred Brown, to restore quail across the state, so younger generations can feel the thrill.
Quail Hunt competition at Camp Robinson Special Use Area WMA
Brown’s view from his Corning home illustrates the quail’s demise. “I can look out and I can’t see the fence on the far end, it seems like it goes on forever,” said the chairman of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Where once were small farms separated by weedy fence rows, and maybe an untended plot with overgrowth, is a precision-leveled field.
Not exactly perfect quail habitat, which greatly diminished during the latter half of the 20th Century. As Jim Harris points out in “The Quest for Quail” in the March/April issue of Arkansas Wildlife magazine, 90 percent of Arkansas is privately owned, and certainly won’t be returning to the small farms and land use that dominated before the 1970s. No other state will, either; but several neighboring states have shown that quail habitat can be restored.
Brown, in his final year on the Commission, says a conservation education facility in northwestern Arkansas and a full-scale restoration of quail would be “my 1 and 1A priorities as chairman. And I feel certain that the commissioners coming behind me are on board to continue it.”
In 2002, the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative began, unifying 25 state fish and wildlife agencies to restore quail habitat and wild populations of the bird. The writings of famed biologist Trusten Holder show that Arkansas first made efforts at helping quail numbers as far back as 1924, and federal money helped create “game farms,” a forerunner of wildlife management areas, in 1940.
“Our division made it a priority to ramp up our quail restoration effort in line with the NBCI,” said Brad Carner, chief of the AGFC Wildlife Management Division. “What I’d say is different now from then; it was simply a wildlife division priority, and it became difficult as the years passed for us to maintain the emphasis that it needed, both from a manpower and a funding standpoint.
“This time clearly it’s a priority all the way to the top, at the Commission level and down. It’s clearly an agency priority now and not for one division.”
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