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New Bern Sun Journal

Farmers can help quail, themselves with new federal program that pays
November 19, 2004
Ed Wall
Special to the Sun Journal

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is encouraging farmers to improve quail habitat and be compensated for their efforts. A new federal program is paying farmers to allow strips of native grasses and brush to grown around their fields.

These "bobwhite buffers" provide much-needed habitat for quail, songbirds and other small animals.

Bobwhite quail, once prolific throughout the Southeast and Midwest, have declined precipitously over the past several decades.

Just in the last 25 years, populations have dropped 60 percent nationwide, according to federal data. The cause appears to be loss of early-successional habitat - the weeds, shrubs and wildflowers that grow after a natural disturbance such as fire or storms.

These scrubby vegetation types provide food, cover and nesting habitat, but they have declined due to modern farming techniques, urbanization and reforestation.

The Wildlife Commission for years has worked to rebuild quail populations by restoring lost habitat. Through the Cooperative Upland-habitat Restoration and Enhancement program, CURE, the Commission works with private landowners on three pilot cooperatives and with managers of public lands to provide the early-successional habitat that quail and other small animals need.

The new federal program provides a powerful tool for quail restoration efforts. Its intent is to reduce the impact on wildlife of "clean farming" - a common agricultural method that eliminates fallow fields, weedy ditches and transitional areas between field and forest that were a normal part of the farm landscape before modernization.

"The 'bobwhite buffers' initiative has the potential to add thousands of habitat to our rural landscape - much more than we could have done on our own," said Terry Sharpe, the Commission's agricultural liaison biologist.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, working through local Farm Service Agency offices, will enroll up to 250,000 acres nationwide for the Northern Bobwhite Quail Habitat Initiative. North Carolina has been designated for 11,300 acres - more than any other state in the Southeast.

"I think our high acre allocation in this new federal program is an affirmation that we are on the right track with our quail restoration efforts," Sharpe said.

The initiative is part of the USDA's Conservation Reserve Program, which compensates farmers who set aside sensitive areas to protect water quality and other environmental assets. Although landowners are not required to plant buffers, they must agree to manage the enrolled acres periodically in order to prevent tree encroachment.

Enrollment began Oct. 1. To be eligible, the buffers must be adjacent to row crop land with active cropping history for four of the six years from 1996 to 2001. Annual rental payments are based upon soil fertility and local established rental rates. Compensation includes a one-time signing bonus of about $100 per acre enrolled, an annual maintenance payment of $5 per acre and a management payment of up to $100 per acre over the 10-year lifetime of the agreement.

The Commission is reaching out in particular to landowners in the Coastal Plain, where the initiative has the most potential to benefit bobwhites. Interested landowners should contact a Farm Service Agency office and ask for enrollment applications for practice CP33, Habitat for Upland Birds.

n Biologists hope to save duck stamp dollars

According to Ron Reynolds, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Habitat and Population Evaluation Team, the federal duck stamp is in danger. Actually it's not the stamp that is threatened but rather the funds it generates for wildlife.

"Some bird-conservation initiatives that have not received much funding are looking to the duck stamp program as a source of money," said Reynolds recently. "It was actually suggested that we replace the duck on the duck stamp with a non-game bird. We need to support other initiatives, but not as the expense of a program built by duck hunters." Increased competition for funding has resulted in fewer duck stamp dollars being spent on ducks and their breeding grounds.

The federal duck stamp has been around since 1934 when Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling came up with the concept of selling stamps to duck hunters and using the proceeds to secure critical waterfowl habitat. The program became one of wildlife management's greatest success stories. Going into this season, duck stamp dollars had secured 5.2 million acres of waterfowl habitat, more than half of that in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR).

Focusing duck stamp dollars on the PPR is critical according to Lloyd Jones, who heads up the Region Six Refuge Division of the USFWS. "If you want to increase the mallard population, there's only one place to get the job done, and that's on the prairie breeding grounds," he said. "Over 90 percent of the waterfowl habitat already protect on the U.S. side of the breeding grounds was secured with duck stamp dollars. The rest is a combination of other public lands and habitat acquired by state agencies and conservation organizations."

The wildlife managers point out that it is important that resources from duck stamp sales continue to be directed to acquiring and protecting critical waterfowl habitat in the PPR.

"We're losing huge chunks of native habitat every year," said Jones. "We should be focusing our waterfowl conservation dollars here and now. It's far less expensive to take easements on existing wetlands and grasslands than it will be to restore them once they're gone."

n Craven County gains new wildlife officer

Wildlife Enforcement Officer Jason W. Daniel has been assigned to Craven County by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Daniel, 29, joined the Commission after recently completing wildlife enforcement officer training. The Nash County native is a former sergeant and K-9 handler with the Nash County Sheriff's Office, and a former volunteer firefighter with the Middlesex Fire Department. A graduate of Nash Senior High School, Daniel and his wife, Tiffany, have two children.

n Hunting season goes into full awing tomorrow

In the opinion of many sportsmen, the state's "real" hunting season gets underway tomorrow when rabbit, quail and pheasant become legal game. The season on the first two will extend through Feb. 28. Pheasant season closes on Feb. 1.

The seasons are open at the present on raccoon, opossum, grouse and bobcat (till Feb. 28), gray squirrel (till Jan. 31), duck (till Dec. 4) and deer (till Jan. 1). Bear season in the Northeastern counties (incl. Craven, Pamlico, Beaufort and Jones counties) will be open again from Dec. 6 to 18. The second segment of dove season will be open Nov. 22 to 27 and again from Dec. 20 to Jan. 15. The third part of duck season will be from Dec. 18 to Jan. 29. Seasons and bag limits are listed in tabular form on the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's Web site A map of the Canada goose hunting zones is posted there as well.

n Calendar

Nov. 20 - The Vanceboro Chapter of Ducks Unlimited will host their annual membership banquet beginning at 6 p.m. Phone Kendal Gaskins at (252) 244-0599 or Chris Walls at (252) 229-9177 for directions and details.

Nov. 26 - The N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort will offer adult sailing lessons onboard a 30-foot keelboat. Rerservations and an $85 fee are required. Phone (252) 728-7317 for additional information.

Dec. 4 - The Cherry Point Archers will host a 3-D archery tournament at their range at MCAS Cherry Point from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will be a fundraiser for the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program. Part of the entry fee will be a new, unwrapped toy. Phone 252-444-5976 for directions.

Ed Wall can be reached at

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