For The Birds

The grassroots organization Quail Forever is aptly named. Since its 2005 launch, the Oklahoma chapter of this international organization, one of the first in the country, has worked to save and protect the game bird and preserve its habitat – not just in the short-term, but forever.

Quail Forever’s mission is to improve habitat, increase public awareness and advocate sound land management policies for quail, and all upland birds, on a local scale.

But why are these creatures, somewhat diminutive and mostly flightless, so crucial to protect?

Laura McIver, president of the Central Oklahoma ‘89ers Chapter of Quail Forever, says that these birds are more important to Oklahoma than many might realize.

“Quail actually represent a much larger ecosystem that is sadly disappearing from our plains,” McIver says.

Bobwhite quail and other prairie birds, she adds, could easily become threatened species unless action is taken.

“We are in a critical stage for quail,” McIver says. “The drought exacerbated population loss, but so many other factors are also threatening their future. There has been a tremendous loss of habitat due to things like urban sprawl, intensive farming practices, a takeover of prairie grasses by forests and grasses that don’t benefit quail.”

Luckily, Quail Forever, with its unique grassroots structure, is here to help.

McIver says that the group’s fundraising model is one big reason why she spends so much time with Quail Forever. Unlike other wildlife conservation groups, the local volunteers who raise money have control over the funds.

“So, they have a major say in where their fundraising dollars are spent,” she says.

What began as a group of only six or so dedicated group members in 2005 grew into a regular, core group of 17 board members and volunteers. Fundraising events also became larger and more involved, beginning with just one banquet a year; the group now hosts numerous events.

Founding chairman, James Dietsch adds that these events are critical to help the group reach their goals.

“[Our chapter] has already spent over $125,000 on conservation efforts and education in Oklahoma,” Dietsch says. “Our goal is to help bring back quail populations in order to preserve the heritage that has been established since the 1930s.”

One such conservation effort was the recent project in the Packsaddle Wildlife Management Area in Ellis County. McIver says that funds were used to remove several miles of fencing in order to facilitate a controlled burn, causing a wider variety of grasses and vegetation mixes to grow – a beneficial move for quail.

“The fence removal also helps hunter access and contributes to a more positive hunting experience,” McIver says.

It might seem ironic to some, but McIver says that most of the Quail Forever group are hunters.

“Hunters are actually our greatest conservationists,” she explains.

McIver points out that hunting is a great management tool, and that through the Pittman-Robertson Act, an excise tax on hunting equipment means that hunters fund most environmental conservation throughout the country.

Dietsch also says that the quail hunting heritage is a big part of Oklahoma’s history.

“Quail are native to Oklahoma and are a symbol of a healthy prairie and environment,” Dietsch says. “Quail and quail hunting in Oklahoma is a tradition that has been shared by many families for many years and it would be very disappointing to lose that tradition.”