Quail Decline in Texas

STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITY
Quail, an economically and ecologically important natural resource, and associated grassland birds are experiencing critical population declines in portions of Texas at this time. We have a window of opportunity to intervene and reverse the decline and implement more sustainable management systems.

BACKGROUND AND RELEVANCE
Bobwhite populations are declining across their range, especially during the last 15 years. The bobwhite’s plight is so critical in many southeastern states some scientists predict quail will be extinct in those areas by 2005. While Texas remains a final frontier for wild quail, bobwhite populations statewide have declined an average of 4.7% annually since 1981. Texas needs to address quail decline now before the situation becomes as critical as in the Southeastern portion of the U.S.

Quail represent an ecologically and economically important natural resource. Economic impacts include (a) revenue to landowners, (b) revenue to rural communities through ecotourism, and (c) rural real estate values. Indeed, the quail decline across the southeastern U.S. has increased the value of Texas’ quail hunting opportunities. However, the quality (and thus marketability) of quail hunting in Texas is at risk. Economically depressed ranchers need to maintain/restore quail populations to maintain/enhance enterprise diversification opportunities.

Concurrently, scaled quail have also declined across their range over the last 10 years, and various grassland songbird populations are similarly declining. Bobwhites serve as a barometer of changes in other grassland bird populations. Management that improves quail populations will benefit a suite of declining songbirds.

Land fragmentation and resulting habitat fragmentation has been shown to disrupt dispersal and movements of animals, result in increased predation and nest parasitism, disturb animal social structure and diminish habitat health because natural events such as animal grazing and natural fires are prevented. Between 1985 and 1995, rural land parcels decreased in Texas by 4 percent. Parcels in South Texas, East Texas, and the Trans-Pecos regions decreased by 11 percent to 14 percent.

Several universities, state and federal agencies and organizations have joined together in a partnership to develop a plan to work to reverse quail decline in Texas. This plan addresses the causal factors in quail decline in Texas, and seeks to implement an expanded educational effort to promote appropriate management practices for quail. Several states throughout the Southeastern U.S. have recently passed state-funded initiatives such as this one to curb the decline of bobwhites. Wildlife scientists from universities and agencies throughout Texas will cooperate to identify any and all causal factors implicated in quail decline and develop sustainable management practices. An intensive outreach component will work with landowners to implement quail-friendly management practices.

GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
The coordinated and strategically developed plan for reversing quail decline contains the following components:

(1) Education: Develop and deploy widely publicized regional education strategies aimed at landowners, sportsmen, youth and other stake-holders to facilitate implementation of sustainable management practices. Hire a project coordinator and four Extension quail specialists (PhD level; 70% extension and 30% research appointments) stationed in Vernon, San Angelo, Kingsville and College Station. Support Bobwhite Brigade, Covey Kids, youth education and other similar programs. Develop videos on best management practices tailored to different regions of the State. Develop educational materials for distribution in printed and electronic versions. Deliver a coordinated program statewide.

(2) Research: Implement an integrated, prioritized research plan to further identify causal factors contributing to quail decline, involving several universities. Targeted research areas to include brood survival, nesting ecology, mortality factors, economic impact and response to management practices. Appropriate funds for core research for Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University – Kingsville, and Texas Tech. Appropriate additional funds for matching grants on competitive basis available to other potential university partners (e.g., Angelo State University, Southwest Texas State University).

(3) Habitat restoration: A total of 12 counties will be selected to participate in a pilot project of cost-shared habitat restoration. Quail populations on these areas will be monitored over a 6-year period to evaluate the plan’s effectiveness in restoring viable quail populations. The pilot restoration programs will include three counties in each of the four targeted, priority regions (North Texas, West Texas, South Texas, East Texas). Whole ranch/farm demonstrations relating to sustainable management practices for quail will be established at landscape level. County sites will be selected based on a call for proposals.

(4) Rural economic development: Better quantify economic impacts of quail hunting, birding and related ecotourism and devise strategies to maintain/expand opportunities in enhancing rural economies and income for individual landowners.

(5) Fragmented landscapes: One of the factors involved in quail decline is land fragmentation. Examine the impact of land fragmentation on quail population dynamics and seek means for retaining quail populations in highly fragmented landscapes.

DELIVERABLES/OUTCOMES

  • Focused educational program for landowners regarding decline of quail and associated song-birds and general education for youth and adults.
  • Research aimed at identifying causal factors contributing to quail decline and mitigating management practices.
  • Restoration of quail habitat in 12 targeted counties through use of cost-share funds.
  • Quantified economic impacts of quail and related enterprises.
  • Research conducted and developed for management strategies for fragmented landscapes.

PROJECTED BUDGET

  • FY02 $1.85 million
  • FY03 $1.85 million
  • $3.7 million for the biennium

PARTNERS

Universities:

  • Texas A&M University System
  • TAMU – Kingsville
  • Texas Agricultural Extension Service
  • Texas Agricultural Experiment Station
  • Texas Tech University

Agencies:

  • Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

SUPPORTERS:

  • Texas Department of Agriculture
  • Conservation groups:
  • Quail Unlimited
  • Texas Wildlife Association
  • Texas Audubon Society
  • Texas Chapter, The Wildlife Society
  • Texas Section, Society for Range Management
  • Commodity groups:
  • Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Assn.
  • Texas Farm Bureau
  • Texas Sheep & Goat Raisers Association