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Wednesday, August 7, 2013
When Bill Wilson of Covington served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1974 to 1989, he headed a General Assembly joint subcommittee to study the alarming decline of quail in the state's rural landscape.
Wilson believes the time has come to repeat the effort and is working with Sen. Emmett Hanger, Jr., R-Mount Solon, and Del. Lacy Putney, I-Bedford, toward 2014 legislation that would create a new study.
He announced the endeavor during the recent annual meeting of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee at Hotel Roanoke, which attracted 125 participants. Organized in 1995, the committee represents 25 states that believe quail restoration is possible and have pooled their resources to make it happen. The conference chairman was Marc Puckett, who heads the Quail Management Assistance Program for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
So why introduce politics into a natural resource effort that already is in place and making some progress?
Wilson praises the work of Puckett and says the legislative-backed study he envisions would not compete or conflict with current quail restoration efforts in Virginia.
"It would compliment them and give them much more momentum," he said. "It will pull together the main players at the very highest levels. In other words, we will have the top lobbyists and top level officials from the forestry industry companies, the farmers and other large private landowners, the utilities, VDOT, wildlife organizations and the hunters.
"The Bobwhite quail population is continuing to drop and we need to speed up the save-the-quail process every way we can," Wilson said. "Dealing as directly as possible with people who can influence the landowners is the best way to proceed, in my judgment."
Wilson would like to see more emphasis placed on the role pollutants may be playing in the demise of quail.
Restoring habitat for quail was a major emphasis at the Roanoke conference. The theme was "Appalachian Overlap: Where the Ranges of Quail, Grouse, Woodcock, Turkey and Golden-Winged Warblers Overlap."
"We all feel we need to unite around a central message that young forests, weeds, thickets, native grasslands and other habitats we deem early succession habitats are just as important to wildlife and ecosystems as are wetlands and mature forests," Puckett said.
Lining up behind that concept at the conference were the U.S. Forest Service, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Quail Forever, the Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Virginia Department of Forestry, the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture, the DGIF and others.
"We were saying, 'Let's not focus on our differences; let's focus on what we can agree on,"' said Puckett.
Participants are reporting modest success, but understand they are in for a long fight, Puckett said. The return of deer, bear, turkey and waterfowl didn't happen in 20 years; it was more like 75. Waterfowl had the backing of $6 billion.
"I don not believe there is any quit in our group," he said.
Nor does Wilson.
"I believe there is an amazing amount of talent represented by that group."
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