In response to drastic declines in bobwhite quail populations, falling an estimated 4 percent a year in some parts of the state, Virginia has joined more than 20 states to sign on to the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, a large-scale effort to form federal, state, local, and nonprofit partnerships to increase quail habitat. Over the past three years, about 2,500 acres across the state — about 500 of them in the New River Valley — have begun to be managed for quail habitat.

At the frontlines of this effort are five private lands biologists working for the Conservation Management Institute (CMI) on a project sponsored by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. David Bryan, Justin Folks, Robert Glennon, Andrew Rosenberger, and Blair Smyth are working together to provide information and support to landowners interested in managing for quail.

“Getting knowledgeable people on the ground working directly with landowners is the best way to achieve all of our habitat goals,” said Scott Klopfer, director of CMI. “The private lands biologists work hard to ensure landowners have the information, resources, and support to make good decisions.”

Rosenberger is helping develop conservation plans for landowners and farmers interested in the program. Since beginning his efforts, he has worked with more than 70 individuals across Southwest Virginia to restore quail and other native species to their land. He uses a variety of techniques to reach out to landowners, including workshops, field trips, and presentations to civic groups.

The main idea is to encourage communities to create “quail-habitat quilts” consisting of patches of appropriate habitat including warm-season grasses, brushy edges, and other early successional vegetation. Quail need these areas because they provide cover for nesting, raising young, and escaping predators. “For landowners interested in the project, there are conservation incentive programs available to help restore habitat in addition to free conservation planning,” explained Rosenberger.

While restoring quail habitat in Virginia is positive in itself, the effort has broader benefits for other species. Grassland habitat is also good for songbirds such as grasshopper sparrows, meadowlarks, and yellow-breasted chats, and game species such as wild turkey and white-tailed deer. Managing for native grasslands can also help pollinator species such as butterflies, bumblebees, and honey bees, all of which are in decline worldwide. Native grasses such as big bluestem, Indian grass, and switchgrass provide drought-tolerant, perennial forage for livestock that doesn’t require fertilizer, which improves water quality and reduces runoff when compared with row crops.

“There is a lot of work to be done before we can expect bobwhite quail to rebound in Virginia,” said Klopfer. “But with interaction with interested landowners and continued support from the agencies involved, we can get there.” For more information, visit Bring Back Bobwhites.