Second Bobwhite Bootcamp a Success!

Photo by Haley Lockard

Annual biologist training camp resumes after pandemic

Story by Quail Forever Staff

Over forty wildlife professionals gathered at Prairie Wildlife in West Point, Mississippi for a second Working Lands for Wildlife Bobwhite Framework Training. The yearly training began in 2019 but was stalled due to pandemic travel restrictions. This year’s participants were from Quail Forever (QF), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and partner agencies (Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) & Georgia Department of Natural Resources) and Mississippi State University. Private lands biologists, precision agriculture specialists, and outreach coordinators represented nine states.

Topics included habitat management and planning, bobwhite ecology, pollinator plantings, row crop considerations for wildlife, and precision agriculture conservation tools. Sessions were created to give biologists a well-rounded knowledge of working with landowners, Farm Bill programs and expectations of their positions. The group was split into teams to work through land management scenarios covering multiple landscapes across Prairie Wildlife and nearby properties. The exercise was especially helpful to new biologists, as working through scenarios gave them the opportunity to problem solve for wildlife with peers, while considering landowner objectives, and practicing whole farm planning. Experienced biologists provided mentorship and presented multiple perspectives on best practices to be discussed openly. The week concluded with the small teams presenting their plans.

Quail Forever is grateful to Prairie Wildlife for allowing us the opportunity to stay on grounds and use their facility to train. Audrey Hawk, Quail Forever’s new outreach specialist said “listening to bobwhite quail whistle while we were in our rooms was a thrilling experience. It was refreshing to gain new perspectives from biologists across the Southeast and be challenged in seminars to get down and understand landscape from a quail’s perspective. I am sure we will use the connections and knowledge from training well into our new careers with Quail Forever.” Dr. Jess McGuire, Quail Forever’s Working Lands for Wildlife Bobwhite Framework Coordinator added that “coming together to train is critical to jump starting these biologists’ careers. We are fortunate to have funding and cooperation from partners that want to invest in our staff’s future.” Dr Mark McConnell from Mississippi State University (MSU) was critical in the planning and execution of the training. McConnell believes that the training “provides a unique and increasingly essential training opportunity for early career biologists.” He continues to highlight the true purpose in providing “participants with ‘turn-row credibility’ so they can communicate more effectively with farmers and ranchers, to provide more sound conservation recommendations through the bobwhite range.”

Special thanks go to John Mark Curtis (Quail Forever), Dr. Mark McConnell, Dr. Jess McGuire, and Bennie Atkinson (Prairie Wildlife General Manager) for planning the event and presenting. Dr James Martin from the University of Georgia presented a Bobwhite Biology video series online for participants to view prior to the in-field portion. We appreciate Wildlife Mississippi for the use of field equipment. Other speakers included Dr. Brady Self (MSU Extension), Brittney Viers (QF), Calvin Boyd (NRCS), James Callicutt (MSU Extension), John Gruchy (MDWFP), and John Seymour (Roundstone Native Seed). We also thank the Confluence Group for documenting our week of training. Finally, we thank USDA- NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife Framework for funding to make these trainings possible. Bridgett Costanzo, the NRCS national headquarters Working Lands for Wildlife Coordinator for the East/Central U.S. is adamant that “training and mentoring new staff is one of our most important responsibilities. Landscape conservation requires a diverse skill set, and this type of training helps us do our best to support private landowners in pursuing their dreams for their land.”