Stepping Up Our Game for Ohio Bobwhites

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By Cody Grasser, Quail Forever Ohio State Coordinator

As in much of its historic range, northern bobwhite quail numbers have been trending downward for many years in Ohio. The iconic bird was once widespread in the Buckeye State, but population declines over the past few decades have constricted quail to the southern half of Ohio. While Bobwhites can be found throughout southern Ohio, just a few population strongholds remain. But even these concentrated populations are in peril, and Quail Forever and our partners are working hard to address this conservation crisis.

Ask a bunch of wildlife biologists, farmers, and hunters what has caused the decline and you will hear a bunch of different answers, including blizzards, changes in farming practices, spread of non-native grasses, loss of fencerows and other brushy areas, forest succession, and more. Here at The Habitat Organization we know that habitat is the answer, no matter the cause, and in Ohio we are using a targeted approach to put more habitat on the landscape and improve what’s already here.

One of our earliest targeted efforts was getting involved with the Fallsville Quail Heritage Area, a National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative Focal Area in southern Ohio. Since its inception around 2015 we have partnered with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife (DOW) to help facilitate habitat improvement projects in the focal area leveraging state, federal, and local funding. The same partnership has also led to many Habitat Share projects in the existing quail range, where we use locally raised PF & QF chapter dollars and in-kind efforts as the required 25 percent nonfederal match to secure federal Pittman-Robertson funding to improve habitat on public lands.

Ohio got another boost for targeting quail habitat a few years ago when the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) partnered with PF & QF for assistance implementing their Working Lands For Wildlife (WLFW) initiative’s Northern Bobwhite Quail project. That project targeted 31 counties in southern Ohio for improving habitat on private working farmlands. Through a multi-state National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, QF established a Grasslands and Grazing Coordinator position in Ohio. Jason Jones was hired in 2019 to promote the use of native warm season grass forage in working livestock operations and connect livestock producers with cost share programs to help implement these wildlife-friendly and bottom-line boosting practices. Incorporating native grass forage into grazing and forage systems can improve weight gains, drought resistance, soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat, particularly for quail.

Our latest effort involved working with the NRCS and DOW to develop and support a new Quail Priority Area for their Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This priority area will take a few habitat practices that are lacking on the landscape and increase a landowner’s likelihood of receiving EQIP funding to install them on their land in the designated area. The designated Quail Priority Area targets the heart of existing bobwhite populations in Ohio.

Along the way PF & QF has also worked with the Ohio Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Programs Advisory Committee to ensure CRP practices in the state are as wildlife friendly as possible. Most recently the committee developed the Upland Bird SAFE Quail Focus Area, yet another targeted effort in southern Ohio to give landowners another financial assistance program to choose from to create great quail habitat.

In addition to the Grassland and Grazing Coordinator position, PF & QF host a team of Farm Bill wildlife biologists working in southern Ohio to assist landowners with habitat projects and programs like EQIP, CRP, WLFW, and more. These positions are made possible through partnerships with the NRCS, DOW, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and PF & QF grassroots chapters in Ohio.

The Habitat Organization will continue using habitat to answer the call in Ohio and will utilize every tool in the toolbox to help landowners improve habitat on their land. Lastly, as I write this yet another targeted effort is in development, a potential new QF chapter starting in the heart of Ohio’s quail country.


This story originally appeared in the 2021 Fall Issue of the Quail Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Quail Forever member today!