Habitat & Conservation  |  04/12/2022

New USDA Framework for Bobwhite Conservation Announced

Photo by Anna Swerczek

Framework will help guide voluntary conservation work over the next five years across 25 states

By Dr. Jessica McGuire

Upland habitat loss has long been correlated to declines in bird populations. During the past 60 years or so, the northern bobwhite population has decreased an estimated 80 percent across large areas of the central and eastern U.S., mostly due to changes in land use and management.

The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has recently released a new plan for expanding conservation on working lands throughout the range of the northern bobwhite.

The Northern Bobwhite, Grasslands, and Savannas Framework for Conservation Action outlines how NRCS, through its Working Lands for Wildlife partnerships will work with private landowners and partners like Quail Forever to increase adoption of targeted conservation practices that are a win-win for all – farmers, ranchers, forest owners, bobwhite quail, and a host of other wildlife species.

Northern bobwhite thrive in open habitats such as woodland savannas, glades, and prairies. However, the birds also adapt well to enhanced agricultural settings. Producers can have a huge impact on protecting wildlife while also improving their own land and natural resources, helping save other wildlife species, and reducing impacts from climate change like wildfires and droughts.

This framework will help guide voluntary conservation work over the next five years across 25 states, including over 7 million acres of new conservation practices on productive working lands, and will contribute to USDA’s efforts to make our nation a leader on climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience.

NRCS will help producers reduce wildfire and drought threats on their land through practices like prescribed burning and establishing native warm season grasses to reduce erosion, recharge aquifers, and supplement forage during summer slump periods. In addition, they will help producers establish practices such as prescribed grazing, brush management, herbaceous weed treatment, forest stand improvement, contour buffer strips, and conservation cover – practices that improve the health and economic value of crops, herds, and timber.

Habitat restored for the bobwhite also benefits many other species, including turkey, deer, rabbit, gopher tortoise, and many declining pollinators and songbirds, including many bee and butterfly species, Bachmann’s sparrow, and prairie warbler. The framework outcomes will be planned and monitored in coordination with the National Bobwhite Technical Committee.

In addition, protecting the grassland and savanna habitats that bobwhite quail call home also reduces the impact of climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil. This can provide landowners with greater access to carbon market sales.

NRCS will work with partners like Quail Forever to help producers with planning and implementing these practices and will monitor and measure the response of bobwhite and other wildlife species. We are proud to be a partner in this effort and look forward to coordinating through this new plan to preserve bobwhite habitat.

For questions, or to learn how you can become involved, please reach out to Dr. Jess McGuire, Working Lands for Wildlife Bobwhite Coordinator, at jmguire@quailforever.org and visit the Working Lands for Wildlife website.

Dr. Jessica McGuire is Quail Forever's Working Lands for Wildlife Bobwhite Coordinator