As hunters look to the quail hunting season opening on October 25 across Texas, there is new hope for bobwhite quail, and for dozens of other birds and animals that share the same native grassland habitat. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has awarded grants to put $4 million worth of quail habitat conservation on the ground, using a special appropriation by the Texas Legislature to help bring back the quail.
“We chose places where quail are gone, but they haven’t been gone long, kind of the front line in the battle to restore bobwhites,” said Robert Perez, TPWD upland game bird program leader. “It’s a first out, first back in concept. Can we bring quail back? That’s the question we’re exploring in these focus areas.”
The three focus areas are the Southeast Texas area – close to a dozen counties around Columbus, Sealy, Victoria; the I-35 Corridor area in Navarro and Ellis County; and the Rolling Plains/Cross Timbers area – counties around and south of Wichita Falls
“We’re using the $4 million to concentrate efforts in certain counties, with partners, so that the funding goes on the ground, and you build up enough habitat to support viable quail populations that are visible in numbers,” Perez said. “The government will never be able to pay enough to restore millions of acres for quail habitat. The goal is to demonstrate success in various areas of the state and show that quail habitat can be restored, to inspire and guide private landowners throughout the quail range.”
Fifteen grants have been awarded and two more in process to various nonprofits, universities and others for grassland restoration in the three focus areas. The $4 million in grants comes from the sale of $7 upland game bird stamps purchased by hunters.
Grant partners include organizations like the Wildlife Habitat Federation west of Houston, the Western Navarro Bobwhite Recovery Initiative south of Dallas, and the Grassland Restoration Incentive Program (GRIP) under the Oaks & Prairies Joint Venture, which has already delivered habitat restoration projects on more than 36,000 acres of grasslands in the three focus areas.
In addition, Perez received a federal Wildlife Restoration Program grant for $200,000 over four years, to fund multi-year quail population monitoring to measure the impact that these combined restoration efforts are having on quail populations and other grassland birds in the focus areas.
“What’s different here is the monitoring,” Perez said. “That scale and quality of monitoring is often left out because there isn’t enough staff or money to do it. But this time we are counting birds carefully in new ways, before and after restoration. We’re hiring summer technicians to cover thousands of points, counting quail and other grassland birds that share this habitat and are also in decline.”
If you build it, they will come. Habitat is the cornerstone of every wildlife species that we have. Habitat is comprised of the food, cover, water and space that a species needs to survive. There is a lot of overlap between quail habitat and other grassland nesting birds, so promoting quail habitat means helping a lot of other critters, non-game ones included.