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    For the Birds

    National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative
    The Challenge of Our Time
    John J. Morgan, NBCI Director

    In the early 20th century, wildlife populations were in deep trouble. The Industrial Revolution and subsequent burgeoning growth of America’s population fueled demand for wildlife products. They were procured through market hunting, which yielded food, fur and feather for our ancestors. The commercialization of the wildlife resource pushed many common species of today to the brink of extinction. Deer, elk, wild turkeys, many waterfowl and antelope, to mention a few, teetered perilously close to being remembered through photos and as remnants in a natural history museum. Early conservationists like Giffort Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt and eventually Aldo Leopold began what remains one of the world’s most dramatic conservation success stories.

    Sportsmen and women were an integral part of that wildlife legacy. They helped establish state game agencies, embraced wildlife regulations and endorsed a self-imposed excise tax on guns and ammo through the Pittman Robertson Act. Millions of dollars helped fuel species recovery, resulting in what modern Americans enjoy today.

    Could a 1920’s American citizen imagine a future with prosperous wildlife? In many cases, rare species of their day have become nuisances today. Admittedly, the human mind is often limited by the information gathered relative to its time and place. Seeing a path forward at scales the size of the American landscape would have been unimaginable to most, if not all folks. Yet it happened!

    Many of our game birds today face uncertain futures, especially those depending upon grasslands. Commercial and residential development, modern agriculture practices supported by herbicides and pesticides and the demand for a “manicured” landscape have created a modern-day wildlife crisis. Grassland game bird species like prairie chickens, sage grouse and northern bobwhite quail are the 21st century wildlife challenge. Direct exploitation isn’t to blame but rather indirect exploitation through incompatible land use, leaving habitat scattered or simply absent. The task of our time is centered on changing how people use and view the land. Many of those people are more disconnected from the natural world than at any other time in human history. Can you see a path forward?

    Many people have a hard time visualizing a future that includes grassland game birds in abundance. Without action, these species will eventually face extinction. As you might guess, I shared some history to demonstrate what is possible. Possibility, however, is in our own hands. Who will be our modern-day conservation leaders? What major changes will we make that turns the tide?

    Yes, we have done it before. However, today’s challenge is much different. The habitat of the future fits the species we were recovering. Science helped improve translocations and some harvest regulations protected these species, affording them time, space and opportunities to recover. Our recipe will have to be different.

    The average U.S. state is 74% owned by private individuals or companies. Habitat does not fit, so landowners must change their behavior. Modern agriculture must be revolutionized to blend natural resource management with food and fiber production.

    Despite the obstacles, a path forward most certainly exists. It includes passionate natural resource professionals constantly pushing for change. This undertaking must include sportsmen and women, but more important, it must include all those who appreciate America’s wild beauty working seamlessly together. As a lover of game birds, can we count on you? Are you willing to answer the challenge of leaving the land better than we found it? The time to act is now.

    Backcountry Hunters & Anglers
    Local Chapters Keeping Busy

    For one of its 2021 projects, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers asked volunteers from its Michigan chapter to work in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, pulling fences to help regenerate important game, raptor, insect and songbird habitats. (Photo/courtesy of Jason Meekof, BHA’s Great Lakes Chapter Coordinator)
    For one of its 2021 projects, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers asked volunteers from its Michigan chapter to work in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, pulling fences to help regenerate important game, raptor, insect and songbird habitats. (Photo/courtesy of Jason Meekof, BHA’s Great Lakes Chapter Coordinator)
    Last summer, COVID-19 restrictions eased, and members went back into the field. BHA chapters in states as diverse as Utah, California and Michigan have been supporting upland bird research, doing manual labor on habitat projects and inventorying small game watering stations in fire-stricken areas.

    In southern California, BHA members collaborated with the U.S. Forest Service to inventory over 130 water stations, or guzzlers, that help keep upland game birds hydrated in the hottest parts of the year. Eighteen BHA volunteers engaged with the inventory under the supervision of Greg Schroer, the regional wildlife program leader for the USFS Pacific Southwest Region. While BHA members worked on cataloging and reporting on the state of these important remedies to a hotter and more unforgiving environment, members later will be analyzing this inventory, the costs associated with repairs and eventually – in conjunction with BHA’s Armed Forces Initiative – conducting those repairs.

    “We are looking forward to working with the Forest Service on habitat improvement projects that will bolster the resiliency of wildlife facing a challenging drought year in the Golden State,” California Chapter Coordinator Devin O’Dea said.

    “This guzzler inventory initiative will provide critical information and support to biologists working to support wildlife in the region.”

    Along with the Forest Service project, the California BHA chapter installed new guzzlers at Camp Pendleton after wildfires burned through thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and four previously installed guzzlers on the installation. Guzzlers have been a feature of Camp Pendleton’s conservation program since 1949, supporting habitat and wildlife in a dry and arid environment.

    To replace these guzzlers, BHA partnered with Black Rifle Coffee Company to raise the funds to rebuild these stations, which water approximately 1,500 animals a day during California’s dry season. Twenty BHA volunteers helped install these important water sources for upland game birds, deer and other animals.

    In the Intermountain West, BHA members supported Utah State Professor David Dahlgren’s research on ruffed and dusky grouse. Despite its reputation as a big game hunting destination, Utah has a significant community of upland bird hunters. Through this work, the Utah BHA chapter added to its own knowledge of grouse movement and habitat while providing financial and boots-on-the-ground assistance for Dahlgren’s research.

    “We felt like working with Dave, and upland research allowed us a niche that was kind of untapped,” former Utah BHA chapter leader Josh Lenart said.

    “Upland bird hunters in Utah would say there are too many hunters, but upland is not nearly as popular as it is in other states. As a chapter, we have elected to fund Dave’s research two years in a row (2020 and 2021),” Lenart added.

    Dahlgren is offering opportunities for BHA members to take their bird dogs and help with grouse surveys. In Utah, the easiest way to count grouse is to let the dogs find and flush the birds while their owners will count the birds that burst out of the brush. While COVID-19 stopped these surveys, Lenart is hopeful that in time, Utah BHA members will be on the front lines of Dahlgren’s research.

    “It’s a fruitful potential collaboration,” Lenart said. “There is real interest in his work and in upland in general here.”

    And in the upper Midwest, BHA’s Michigan chapter worked in the Huron-Manistee National Forests, pulling fences to help ensure that prescribed burns will regenerate important game, raptor, insect and songbird habitats.

    “The Wilbur Creek Fence removal project, completed with the help of BHA, allows the Forest Service to safely plan and conduct prescribed burns in the area,” said Dana Meder, wildlife technician for Mio Ranger District of the Huron-Manistee National Forests. “Helping reduce fuel loads, regenerating the forest and maintaining openings is key to our land management plan.”

    Prescribed burns are prime movers for the dense ground-level plant cover that ruffed grouse and American woodcock favor. The burns keep the forests healthy, which, in turn, helps wildlife populations throughout the area.

    “This was a great partnership project and a true win-win for the forest, wildlife and conservationists,” said Greyling Brandt, Mio district ranger for the Huron-Manistee National Forests. “It is truly though partners like BHA that we are able to continue to fulfill the diverse management needs of our public lands.”

    To learn more about the work BHA chapters are doing on the ground to improve habitat for fish and wildlife, including upland game populations: backcountryhunters.org/chapters.

    Wolfe Publishing Group