posted on May 02, 2005 00:00
LITTLE ROCK — Of all Arkansas wildlife held in high regard, quail may be at or near the top of the list. Of all Arkansas trees, there is no doubt pines are the most numerous.
History in recent decades tells that while the growing of pine trees has sharply increased over much of the state, quail have declined in numbers.
But quail and pine can live together, wildlife biologists with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said. Management with careful planning is needed to make this happen.
From large timber company holdings to small acreages on land not suitable for crops or pasturage, pine trees are being planted. It takes 20 years or more for them to be harvested, and during this wait, wildlife can be encouraged among the pines. Deer in south Arkansas are an example. Turkey are doing well in many pine areas, and it’s true that strips of hardwoods among and adjacent to the pines are beneficial to both deer and turkey.
Quail can be added to this scenario. AGFC biologists said pine plantings usually need thinning after the trees are a few years old to prevent overcrowding that results in inferior trees. When pine plantings are thinned, the area becomes more open with sunlight able to reach the ground. A quick result is the growth of natural grasses and forbs, which are non-woody broad-leaved plants. The latter are often preferred food for quail.
Thinning of pine plantings is one step toward diversity that quail and other wildlife need. After the thinning, perhaps in the year following, a landowner can control burn the area with the pines. No, this is not a contradiction - a control burns is a common management tool with wildlife workers. After the burn, native vegetation quickly springs up.
Another technique that can be worked in years after the thinning and burning is discing. This is another method of disturbance that results in more native plant growth. Both burning and discing knock back the growth of undesirable woody plants in favor of the seedproducing natural plants, biologists say.
Still another item in this box of quail encouragement tools is grazing - and this also is not a contradiction. A stand of young pine trees, thinned, burned and disced, can be a host to cattle grazing on a short-term basis. Cattle feed on the variety of grasses that have sprung up, and cattle leave manure on the tract after they are removed. The grazing must be temporary, of course, said the Southeast Quail Study Group, a multi-state, multiagency task force looking at quail and their problems in this part of the nation.
If the pine-planted area is large enough, wildlife managers suggest working it in strips or rotation for increasing the chances of healthy quail numbers.