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housing additions; businesses and roadway expansions that force wildlife to search for a new habitat.


“The movement of quail across the land- scape is interrupted in fragmented habitats, and the birds have a difficult time recolo- nizing or increasing their numbers follow- ing weather catastrophes,” Donnell says. A quail’s natural habitat can also be inter- rupted by the process of overgrazing cattle, a common practice of many cattlemen within the last couple of years simply be- cause drought has left them no other op- tion. When overstocking of a cattle pasture leads to overgrazing, quail are unable to find suitable cover and food.


No-till farming and large-scale clean farm- ing also top the list of major concerns for quail biologists. No-till farming requires the use of herbicides on crops that can reduce annual production of forbs and seeds—all key food sources for quail. Less diverse veg- etative composition may also reduce the amount of insects, a critical component of a quail chick’s diet. Other current farming methods such as clean farming involve the removal of brush along field edges and fence lines—stripping away a quail’s ideal habitat.


Additional possible explanations for the quail’s declining population include a low fur market where the birds are more vulner- able to predation, the use of herbicides and pesticides on brushy areas of grassland, and the presence of disease. With so many theo- ries floating around in the world of quail habitat research, state wildlife officials say it’s time to take action through research and save not only the species but also the hunt- ers who still cherish the sport. The wildlife department has established a long-term partnership with Oklahoma State University’s (OSU) Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management and the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.


“We are conducting research in two of the best remaining public land quail habitat areas—Packsaddle and Beaver River wildlife management areas in northwest Oklahoma,” says Michael Bergin, information specialist for the state wildlife department. “By study- ing how factors such as weather affect quail, biologists hope to gain insight on various aspects of quail management.” OSU graduate students are currently as- sisting state officials with studies on habitat and population dynamics, insect availabili- ty and preference, aerial/terrestrial predator influence and aflatoxicosis. The six-year study began in the fall of 2011 and is ex- pected to run until 2017.


The second research project of top prior- ity, Operation Idiopathic Decline, com- bines the efforts of the state wildlife department, Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch, Texas A&M and Texas Tech University. It began in 2011 and is sched- uled to conclude in 2014.


“This past fall, we sent quail to Texas Tech where samples were analyzed for con- taminants and diseases such as West Nile virus and avian influenza,” Bergin says. “The primary goal of this project is to deter- mine the role of infectious disease on bob- white quail. Disease research on quail has been limited and little is known about the prevalence of specific disease on the quail’s population. The more we can understand and learn, the faster we can stop quail de- cline.”


In addition to these research efforts, state


wildlife officials encourage sportsmen and women across the state to simply continue hunting. The annual quail season begins the second Saturday in November and ends Feb. 15, and Bergin says hunters are a pri- mary means of support for studying the bird.


“Hunters who buy a license are actually contributing to research because their li- cense dollars go back to conservation,” he says. “We as a wildlife department are charged with conserving our wildlife re- sources and it’s important to understand what affects natural wildlife habitat.” With 95 percent of Oklahoma acreage under private ownership, landowners also are important to the conservation of bob- white quail. Bergin says the wildlife depart- ment is building relationships with landowners and offering incentive programs to those who assist in the preservation of prime quail hunting land.


“Quail are an important part of the state’s heritage and we want to see sportsmen par- ticipate in the sport for many more genera- tions,” Bergin says.


Read about this family’s quail hunting traditions on Page 25


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Northwestern Electric Co-op member Wade Free (middle) and his sons Weston (left) and Cooper (right) enjoy quail hunting. Courtesy Photo


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