The northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus), once abundant throughout Virginia, has declined by more than 80 percent over the last 60 years due to urban encroachment and changes in land management practices. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is helping to reverse this trend with an initiative designed to reestablish critical habitat for this state-identified target species.
The Northern Bobwhite in Working Grasslands initiative offers technical and financial assistance to help eligible livestock producers implement conservation practices that establish productive warm-season forages while also providing large acreages of prime habitat for ground-nesting birds and other wildlife.
Bobwhite quail are an “edge” species that seeks habitat where crop fields intersect with woodlands and pastures. NRCS works with participating landowners to develop conservation plans that include replacement of tall fescues and other non-native types of forage with native grasses and beneficial shrubs. These management steps also help graziers improve or maintain average daily weight gains, enhance soil health and hedge against summer drought with fewer inputs.
“Virginia is one of eight states using this approach to managed grazing,” said J.B. Daniel, NRCS’ state grassland agronomist. “We’ve gotten a lot of buy-in from farmers and graziers because they no longer need to take land out of production to establish wildlife habitat for bobwhite quail and other species. These native grass species are also excellent forages for grazing livestock during the summer when our typical cool-season pastures are not as productive.”
NRCS now has 38 active contracts connected with this initiative, which is offered under the umbrella of USDA’s Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) program. Virginia is conducting targeted habitat restoration activities throughout the state with a focus on the following 15 counties: Augusta, Bland, Botetourt, Caroline, Charlotte, Culpeper, Fauquier, Halifax, Hanover, Madison, Orange, Pittsylvania, Rappahannock, Rockingham and Wythe.
Interested landowners should contact their local NRCS service center in Lexington at (540) 463-7124 for more information on restoration of working grasslands.