Targeted CRP Practices Can Boost Bobwhite Populations: Study

New research indicates that the nation’s largest private lands conservation program, the USDA Conservation Reserve Program can magnify its impacts on bobwhite quail, grassland birds and other wildlife if applied to the landscape at scale in locations already targeted by complementary management activities.

Targeted CRP Practices Can Boost Bobwhite Populations: Study

Few things are as enjoyable as hearing the call of wild quail, whether it's on managed property in southwest Georgia's famed quail country or the roughscrabble landscape of Oklahoma.

About five years ago I was in a deer stand on the Chain Ranch in Oklahoma when I saw a flitter of movement in the edge of the food plot. Within seconds, seven or eight fat quail had emerged to scratch, peck, eat, scurry away, run back, scurry again and on and on. I watched them for probably 20 minutes before the last one disappeared in the brush.

I couldn't help myself and whistled. A quail returned the call. Within a minute, one popped back out into the plot, looked around like, "Hey, where are you?" and then disappeared. At the Chain Ranch, they don't aggressively manage for quail but the popular gamebirds benefit from practices for whitetails. And, as usual, the birds' successes ebb and flow with weather, burning, predation and normal life cycles.

So it was good news to hear from the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative about how the nation's Conservation Reserve Program can help quail thrive. Here's the NBCI's press release:

New research indicates the nation’s largest private lands conservation program, the USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) can magnify its impacts on bobwhite quail, grassland birds and other wildlife if it is applied to the landscape at scale and in locations already targeted by complementary management activities. The study was commissioned by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and conducted by seven state wildlife agencies, the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative and the University of Georgia (UGA).

“Although more study needs to be done, these results lend credence to belief that the impact of CRP can be maximized by targeting these programs to working landscapes that are already being managed and monitored,” said Dr. Pat Keyser, acting director of the NBCI.

“Now in its 35th year, CRP provides a win-win for people and the environment by controlling soil erosion, improving water quality and increasing wildlife populations by creating critical habitats,” said USDA Farm Service Agency Administrator Richard Fordyce. “This study’s findings are exactly the kind of outcomes we aim for with CRP, proving that the program can lead to great conservation benefits.”

High Success

The research shows Farm Bill Conservation Reserve Program practices applied on a landscape-scale or “focal area” approach, being demonstrated by the NBCI, have a 78 percent chance of improving breeding season bobwhite populations and a 95 percent chance of improving non-breeding season populations.

“Our objectives were to understand how CRP influences northern bobwhite populations at landscape scales to uncover any differences in the efficiency of CRP in focal landscapes versus CRP in unmanaged or reference areas,” said Dr. James Martin, associate professor of UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

“Conservation Reserve Program practices that use native vegetation were much more productive in managed landscapes than unmanaged ones. For example, in a focal area landscape, preliminary results indicate that for every 5 percent increase in whole-field herbaceous-based CRP practices (e.g., CP2) in a landscape a bobwhite covey is added to the population.”

Martin said the size of the landscape mattered depending on the season, with any CRP field farther than 1.2 miles away from a local population had no influence in breeding season. During non-breeding season a CRP field up to five miles away positively impacted the local population.

“This study highlights the importance of the landscape-scale, targeted approach to conservation in farmlands,” said Dr. John Yeiser, UGA research associate, adding the study also demonstrated that CRP in isolation is less efficient than in clusters. It also indicated there may be variability in the impacts of CRP in different regions depending on the amount or arrangement of resources that are complementary to those added by CRP practices.

Participating states with NBCI focal areas were Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas. NBCI’s focal area program requires a minimum of 1,500 acres of managed habitat, an unmanaged reference or control area for comparison and formal habitat and bird monitoring practices. Fifteen focal and reference areas totaling more than 150,000 acres were involved in the study.

For more detail read the full report at https://bringbackbobwhites.org/download/fsa-bobwhite-report/.

For more detail about the Conservation Reserve Program, visit https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/conservation-programs/conservation-reserve-program/

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