Georgia’s quail recovery program wins kudos, promotes important hunting industry

By David Pendered

Georgia’s population of Northern Bobwhite Quail has declined by 90 percent since 1966, and the state has won national recognition for a program to promote the bird’s recovery – and to stabilize the $125 million quail-hunting industry clustered around Albany.

Quail hunting

Georgia’s program to promote the Northern Bobwhite Quail has earned national recognition. The bird is at the heart of Georgia’s economically significant quail hunting industry. Credit: remingtoncountryoutfittes.com

Quail are relocated from areas where they are relatively abundant, to areas where they are scarce and the land has been prepared to support their recovery. Georgia started the program officially in 2006.

The program sounds simple enough.

But it turns out that quail are not easy to relocate, according to the National Bobwhite Technical Committee, which is an affiliate of a quail recovery program based at the University of Tennessee.

“For years quail professionals routinely believed that wild quail transplantation had little potential to provide real gains for bobwhites,” NBTC Chair and Awards Committee Chair Marc Puckett, of Virginia, said in a statement.

However, success has been recorded through a program operated along the Georgia/Florida border by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and a non-profit based in Tallahassee, Fla., Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

The program is yielding results that could be implemented in other states to help wild birds rebound from steep declines in population – provided that a proper habitat has been created on the receiving property, according to the statement.

Here’s how Puckett described the results:

Northern Bobwhite Quail can be relocated to areas where such quail are in short supply. These two birds are a male (left) and female. Credit: attractionmag.com

A program in Georgia and Florida has established that Northern Bobwhite Quail can be relocated to areas where such quail are in short supply. These two birds are a male (left) and female. Credit: attractionmag.com

“Using techniques pioneered by the Albany Area Quail Project and TTRS in the late 1990s, they have developed an innovative approach that has resulted in the transplantation of 1,275 wild quail to five properties totaling over 18,700 acres in Georgia and Florida, and another 1,750 wild bobwhites to nine properties totaling over 70,000 acres in six other states.”

Georgia’s quail population has been decimated by changes in land use, including the conversion of longleaf pine forests to loblolly pine forest. Loblolly is the most commercially important tree species in the southeast, according to a report from North Carolina State University.

Longleaf pines once covered about 92 million acres across the southeast. Less than 3 percent of this forest remains, and it is being lost at a rate of 100,000 acres a year. In north Florida, the longleaf pine forest has declined by 84 percent, according to the draft version of the State Wildlife Protection Plan.

Against this backdrop, Georgia lawmakers and state officials have worked for years to promote quail populations. In addition to any desire to protect the birds, which weigh about 6 ounces, is the economic impact of wealthy hunters who visit the famed quail plantations.

Tall Timbers and Florida State University’s Center for Economic Forecasting recently released an economic impact analysis. It showed hunting properties generated almost $125 million. Almost 900 jobs are associated with the quail hunting properties, and these jobs generated more than $38 million in wages.

Georgia has supported a number of programs, since the mid 1990s, to promote the natural habitat of quail, according to the draft version of the State Wildlife Protection Plan:

  • In 1995, the Private Lands Initiative was created to intensive efforts to provide wildlife management programs on private property.
  • In 1998, the Bobwhite Quail Initiative was formed into separate technical and financial assistance programs.
  • In 1999, the Forest Stewardship Program was incorporated into the Private Lands Initiative to help landowners incorporate their goals for their land into a comprehensive wildlife management plan.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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