By Lori Wyson
Elm Staff Writer
The only native quail in the east is disappearing. The northern bobwhite quail has been in a population decline since the 1960s, due to an increase in predators, use of pesticides, and loss of habitat.
Stepping in to save the species and preserve the space it calls home, is Washington College’s Center for the Environment and Society.
CES was awarded a $500,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to use for a National Lands Project with the aim of increasing the northern bobwhite quail population and improving water quality.
WC is the only undergraduate institution to receive the grant from the NFWF this year.
Dan Small, the NLP coordinator, believes that progress in the early stages of the project led CES to obtain the grant.
“I think the momentum that we got from being successful with that first grant from DNR kind of opened the eyes of NFWF,” he said.
Small and CES have been asking local landowners to set aside a marginal portion of their fields to leave fallow, or uncultivated. By adding native grasses, wildflowers, and sometimes hedgerows, the NLP creates a habitat for quail, and substantially reduces the runoff that would be feeding into the Chesapeake Bay.
CES is partnering with organizations such as Ducks Unlimited to create wetlands for species of waterfowl at the margins of farm fields. This will boost habitat for other local species and improve water quality.
“Moving forward, I’d like to try and incorporate students into coming out and doing bird surveys or photo points, or maybe even working with students at the [Geographic Information Systems] lab about mapping some of the properties that we’re working on,” Small said.
Grants such as those from NFWF usually have three year timelines, and provide incentives for landowners to make the changes.
He said that with landowners, “We’re having them sign a 10-year management or maintenance agreement so that we can ensure that the habitat that we put in now is at least going to stay there for 10 years, and not just the three years of the life of the grant.”
The traditional significance of quail to the area is one incentive for landowners to participate, said Small.
“We’re kind of at a critical point now where people in their 60s and up have all this knowledge and memory and cultural identity with quail,” he said.
He fears that if the northern bobwhite quail population does not increase, younger generations of farmers will not be as motivated to participate in the project, because they will have no cultural ties to quail.
A similar model has been successful at WC’s Chester River Field Research Station at Chino Farms, where photos and bird surveys show an increase in the northern bobwhite quail population.
“Most of the time the people we’re talking with aren’t really interested in hunting quail anymore. They want to hear and see them,” he said.