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USDA Farm Service Agency recently announced a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Northern Bobwhite Quail Habitat Initiative that will create habitat for the northern bobwhite quail.
Enrollment will begin Oct. 1 and remain open until 250,000 acres within the designated states has been enrolled or Dec. 31, 2007, whichever comes first.

The native quail species have a historic range in 35 states with the midwest and southeast areas of the country.

Tennessee was allocated 9,300 acres for the program.
The birds are a valued inhabitant of farm landscapes, an important aspect of rural culture and are key to the heritage of hunting. However, the northern bobwhite quail population has declined from about 59 million birds in 1980 to about 20 million in 1999. Their habitats are
disappearing due to urbanization, increased grassland cultivation and a transitioning of once grassy fields into woods and forests - and a process called succession.

The initiative will introduce a conservation practice intended to create 250,000 acres of early successional grass buffers along agricultural field borders. FSA will work with landowners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state fish and wildlife agencies, Quail Unlimited, the Southeast Quail Study Group, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and other conservation groups including local conservation districts.

FSA estimates this nesting and brood-rearing cover will increase bobwhite quail numbers by 750,000 birds annually. Planted buffers will also benefit reptiles, amphibians, aquatic species and upland birds, many of which are being considered for listing as endangered species. These include the bell's vireo, orchard oriole, painted bunting, loggerhead shrike, sedge wren, grasshopper sparrow, dickcissel and henslow's sparrow. In addition, the initiative will reduce soil erosion and protect water quality by trapping field sediments and nutrients.

USDA estimates the program will provide $125 million in payments to participants through 2007. Payments may be made for Signing Incentive payments of up to $100 an acre, Practice Incentive payment of up to 40 percent of the eligible establishment cost, cost-share assistance of up to 50 percent of eligible reimbursable costs and annual rental payments and maintenance costs.

©The Tullahoma News 2004

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