Ways to Help the Bobwhite Quail – Using Fire, Herbicides and Longleaf Pine Plantings and Protecting the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker
How Burning Forests Can Help Quail
Editor’s Note: Since 1950, the South has lost much of its quail population. At this rate, in the next 10 to 20 years, the cheerful sound of the native, wild bobwhite quail may vanish from the South’s landscape. The landscape of the South has changed drastically over the years, and these changes negatively have impacted the bobwhite quail’s habitat. To find out what’s happened to quail populations is why I’ve interviewed Stan Stewart, wildlife biologist for the State of Alabama, who’s currently working on quail restoration and technical assistance.
The Indians and the Pilgrims Had It Right:
“The Indians and the early European settlers had forest-management right,” Stan Stewart says. “Before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, the Native Americans used fire to create openings throughout the wilderness. They’d learned that burning the forest enabled them to have fields to plant and made game more abundant. So, there were many openings in the forests that were burned every year or every other year by the Native Americans at that time.” When the Europeans came to this country, they learned from the Indians that burning the forests and the fields to create openings helped to maintain pasture lands for livestock and fields for their crops. These annual burnings and the frequent lightning strikes that also burned the forestlands actually promoted the growth of natural grasses and created feeding, nesting and roosting sites for the bobwhite quail.
The South had peak quail production in the early 1900s. However, as farming practices, timbering practices and land management changed, quail numbers began to decline. By the 1950s, the population of quail that lived in the Southeast in the 1900s had dropped by 50%. And, since 1950, the Southeast had lost 80% of its original quail population.
“The landscape in the late 1800s and early 1900s provided quail with everything they needed to grow, flourish and reproduce,” Stewart explains. “Biologists recognized that the South had had a major shift in land usage in 1950. Small-patch farming was being replaced with large-tract farming. Also, many farmers moved to the cities for better jobs and gave up their small farms. Much of the fields that had been used for pasture and crops were allowed to go fallow and grow-up into dense woodlots. Too, less fire was being used to keep land open.”
Smokey the Bear created the mindset that no one needed to burn the woods and the fields for any reason. The entire United States began to view fire as a bad thing rather than a natural part of nature and good land management. Instead of setting fires to burn fields as our forefathers had, more communities and states in the South banned burning and immediately put-out fires. According to Stewart, “Burning benefits quail because it keeps the cover in early stages of plant growth such as grasses and wheat that quail require for food and habitat. Fire also holds-back the land from reverting to dense forest. When you leave fire out of the landscape for 2 or more years, you’ve lost the habitat that quail prefer.”
Tomorrow: How Using an Herbicide Can Help the Bobwhite