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klahomans young and old have enjoyed the sport of quail hunt- ing for generations but over the past couple of decades, hunters have reported a noticeable decline in the state’s bobwhite quail population. The drop in numbers is a mystery to wildlife offi cials who say western and northwest- ern Oklahoma still harbor some of the country’s best quail hunting land where thousands of hunters visit each year. In an effort to preserve the quail’s status as a great American game bird, the state wild- life department is participating in several research initiatives to study the bird’s habitat.


“As a hunter and biologist, we don’t want to get to the point of no return,” says Wade Free, assistant director of operations for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “The quail population has been trending downward since the 80s, and it’s getting to a point now where the highest numbers we’re seeing are still too low.” Statistics from the state wildlife depart- ment show Oklahoma’s quail population and the number of quail harvested have dropped consistently in the past 30 years. In the mid-80s, hunters harvested 2.7 million birds compared to harvesting nearly 476,000 in 2011.


Wildlife offi cials are taking note of several factors that could negatively impact the bobwhite quail’s population but biologists suspect the bird’s decline is the result of multiple scenarios all occurring at the same time.


“Quail’s reproductive success and sur- vival are tied to the primary factors of weather and habitat,” Free says. “For in- stance, quail do not deal well with drought and excessive heat, and we’ve had both of those scenarios over the last few years. If a multitude of factors aren’t in place during the nesting season to ensure any kind of successful reproduction, the quail popula- tion will suffer.”


Catastrophic weather events are always a major cause for concern but there are sev- eral other theories on why quail are disap- pearing, including the lack of regular prescribed burning of Oklahoma’s wild- lands. Prescribed burning is an effective tool for controlling invasive species and restor- ing new forage, food and habitat for wild- life, but today the practice is often avoided.


Other serious factors affecting the quail’s habitat include large-scale habitat fragmen- tation or degradation; rural and semi-rural areas of Oklahoma that were once havens for wildlife are now the newest grounds for


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