In an effort to stem the decline of Bobwhite Quail and Scaled Quail in Texas, the Quail-Tech Alliance and Texas Tech University have designated a 38-county research area in west central and northwest Texas, an area that encompasses more than 22 million acres or roughly 10 times the size of Yellowstone National Park.
Within each of the counties, one ranch will be designated as an anchor ranch to serve as a field research or demonstration site for five years. Each of the anchor ranches will host a specific research or demonstration project during one year of the five-year period.
“This five-year initiative will produce one of the largest collections of quail data ever generated in a program of this kind,” said Charles Hodges, one of the founders of the Quail-Tech Alliance. Among the historic ranches already on the list are:
• Pitchfork Ranch
• W.T. Waggoner Ranch
• Mill Iron Ranch in Collingsworth County
• Circle 'A' in Archer County
“We plan to use cutting-edge science to attack the problem of quail decline,” said Brad Dabbert, research project director and associate chairman of the Department of Natural Resources Management, voicing the need for a much better understanding of the multiple factors that influence quail population growth.
“Our goal is to increase the acreage of suitable quail habitat throughout the region,” he said. Quail numbers across the state are down, primarily because of disappearing habitat and land fragmentation.
Dr. Dabbert said the broad research area was specifically designed to study multiple areas with diverse weather patterns and habitat characteristics. And by working with the ranchers to develop customized research projects, the needs of the individual ranch operations will be better served.
The Quail-Tech Alliance will conduct research and demonstration projects on an array of topics, including:
• Investigating the potential benefits or detriments of supplemental feeding.
• Factors that influence over-winter survival of adults and summer-to-fall survival of the brood.
• Refining the use of burning, brush modification, and livestock grazing as tools of habitat management.
Separately, research results will be relayed to each anchor ranch immediately, and a “Quail Management Manual” is scheduled to be printed at the end of each 5-year project cycle.
The research program begins Jan. 1, though the group indicated it will be enlisting ranches and personnel this fall. As part of the project, several Texas Tech doctoral, graduate and undergraduate students will be employed.
“This project provides a very exciting opportunity to study the decline of bobwhite and blue quail populations and their habitat requirements,” said Ron Sosebee, a professor emeritus with the Department of Natural Resources Management. “The diverse environmental conditions throughout the Rolling Plains of Texas provide excellent conditions for detailed field research and demonstration projects.”
At the end of the multi-year project, the Texas Tech researchers hope to have a greater handle on ways to increase and sustain quail populations. “The opportunity to increase quail populations and improve their habitat is exciting and has great promise,” Sosebee said.
The Quail-Tech Alliance is a partnership between the natural resources management department and Quail First, a non-profit organization that has a founding board of six members and an advisory board which is still being formed.