By David Pendered
With the population of bobwhite quail reduced by 90 percent since 1966, Georgia and the federal government announced Friday they are launching an additional program to enhance habitat where the birds live.
The new pilot program will pay landowners to take steps to improve water and air quality, conserve ground and surface water, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation, or improve or create wildlife habitat. It also will provide landowners with free technical expertise to improve the environment.
The program is open to landowners who already are enrolled in another incentive program. This one pays a landowner up to $450,000 to make similar environmental improvements to their land.
The supplemental program will provide an additional payment of up to 30 percent of the amount the landowner receives from the initial program. It’s being funded with proceeds of the “BQI Support Wildlife” vehicle license plate.
Along with benefiting bobwhite quail, certain songbirds, pollinators and other wildlife are expected to benefit from the environmental improvements, according to a statement released by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
So much attention is being focused on bobwhite quail partly because quail hunting is big business.
Quail hunting in south Georgia and north Florida had a total economic impact of $272 million a year, according to a report released last year by Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, and it’s project partner, the Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis, located at Florida State University. Quail hunting generates nearly 2,300 direct and indirect jobs and produces $89 million in labor income, according to the report.
The environmental efforts aim to help wildlife recover from the loss of their original habitat.
In some cases, Georgia’s thriving timber business contributed to the demise of habitat, according to the draft version of the State Wildlife Action Plan.
Tree farmers replaced longleaf pine trees with slash or loblolly pine. Longleaf pines once covered 92 million acres in the southeast and now cover less than 3 million acres, according to the wildlife plan.
Longleaf pine forests support biologically diverse communities; more than 300 globally imperiled species lived in the southeast’s longleaf forests. But longleaf pines aren’t as economically valuable as loblolly pines, which researchers at North Carolina State University have reported is the most commercially important tree species in the entire southeast.
In addition, forest management practices have reduced habitat suitability for a multitude of species, according to Georgia’s wildlife plan.
This additional program is open to landowners who are enrolled in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. EQIP is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division.
The EQIP program provides up to $450,000 in funding, according to the U.S.D.A.
The supplemental program will provide additional payments of up to 30 percent to pay for specified practices. The program is competitive and not applicants will receive funding.
The program is restricted to 67 Georgia counties located in the Upper Coastal Plain. Similar programs in this region include EQIP and the state’s Bobwhite Quail Initiative.
Special emphasis will be placed on properties that are within or near BQI focal landscapes, according to the DNR statement. The two-year contracts will provide additional money the landowners are to use for projects including thinning, prescribed burning, and brush management.