The Dallas Morning News
Published: 30 March 2013 07:01 PM
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is correct in its oft repeated statement that the Texas quail decline is not caused by hunters. Maybe the decline can be solved by hunters, who seem to be the only ones concerned by the 75 percent quail decline over the last 25 years.
In Dallas on March 7, nearly 1,000 sportsmen and women attended the annual Park Cities Quail fundraiser, which grossed a record $1 million. PCQ directors will consider writing checks for other quail studies, but it primarily supports the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch near Roby.
RPQRR’s latest project is called Operation Transfusion. It involves the trapping and translocation of wild birds to a depopulated area once known for quail abundance, in this case Stephens County.
A total of 300 birds will be relocated each year for three years in this pilot study. The birds are released onto a ranch that’s managed to benefit them.
“Since about 2007, hunters have shot more whitetail bucks than bobwhite quail in Stephens County,” said RPQRR executive director Dale Rollins, a Texas A&M Agrilife Research professor.
“Translocation with wild stock worked for wild turkeys and white-tailed deer in Texas, and has proven successful for bobwhites in southern Georgia. We believe this should work in West Texas.”
Rollins said he knows of only two other Texas translocations involving wild quail, one in the Piney Woods Region and the other in the Post Oak Savannah. Both efforts failed, ostensibly because the quail were released in poor habitat.
The Operation Transfusion goal is to evaluate the practice of moving wild-trapped quail back into their historic habitat as a means of restoring depleted populations. Rollins’ problem, as any quail hunter might have guessed, was finding landowners willing to donate birds.
“Quail abundance is at a record low level across West Texas,” he said. “Garnering permission to trap quail under such conditions proved more difficult than I’d ever imagined. A half-dozen landowner stepped forward, however.”
The first birds were trapped from Runnels and Tom Green counties and were immediately shuttled to the release site, where the hens were fitted with radio transmitters to monitor survival and nesting success.
Using the best possible techniques, researchers will record quail abundance on the release site as well as a “control” site 15 miles away.
Transplanted quail should adapt to an environment that’s probably better than their old range. One question, of course, is where will we find enough wild quail to repopulate 35 million acres of existing habitat that doesn’t seem to have changed much in 25 years?
Other questions are what happened to the quail that were once so abundant in Stephens County and how will a transfusion cure what may have been the bobwhite equivalent of a brain tumor?
Like medicine, science sometimes works in mysterious and unpredictable ways. A study on transplanting wild quail perhaps will provide a critical piece of a surprisingly complex wildlife puzzle.