West Virginia has launched a five-year project to restore northern bobwhite quail, a native species that was decimated during the winters of 1977, 1978, and 1979.
Governor Jim Justice announced the launch of the project today while mourning the song of the bird, which was once heard in pastures across the Mountain State.
“There’s no question we’ve lost favorable habitat to quail over the last several decades," Justice said. "However, there is still a significant amount of habitat for quail to flourish by starting this reintroduction program.
“Over the next few years, we’re going to work so that our folks can once again hear that familiar bobwhite whistle.”
The clear whistle "bob-WHITE" or "bob-bob-WHITE" call is very recognizable and was once familiar across the state.
Bobwhite (Colinus Virginianus) across the northeastern U.S. were killed off in great numbers in the late '70s during periods of prolonged snow cover and after a long decline in farming, which had otherwise created good grassland habitat for the species.
At the urging of Governor Justice, officials at the state Division of Natural Resources are working on a restoration project at the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County enhancing habitat that will sustain bobwhite quail.
Much of that work has been completed, and the division is working closely with the Texas Parks and Wildlife agency on this project.
Last week 48 birds were captured in Texas and released at the wildlife management area, and transmitters have been placed on some of the quail to monitor survival and habitat use.
Stephen McDaniel, director of the division, emphasized how much the state's outdoor enthusiasts benefit from having elected a governor who's an avid sportsman.
“Sportsmen and women in this state are lucky to have a Governor that continues to support those efforts,” McDaniel said.
“He asked me to look into the possibility of restoring bobwhite quail in West Virginia a couple of years ago, so we started working with our friends in Texas to put something together, but the weather never seemed to cooperate until now.
“We are already providing habitat management resources in the area for our Elk restoration efforts that will benefit these birds as well.
“In the future wouldn't it be great if you were able to see both elk and quail on a visit to southern West Virginia?”
Michael Peters, leader of the division's Game Bird and Small Game Project, said the program has all it needs to succeed, thanks to the governor's efforts.
“Most game biologists know that the wild populations of quail have been greatly diminished in West Virginia,” Peters said.
“With the support of Governor Justice, we have the interest, financial backing, and support that will allow this long-term, management-intensive project to succeed.”
Peters estimates it will take several years to see if this project is successful, although the goal is a self-sustaining population.
In the meantime, the information the division gathers from this project may allow staff to help private landowners and small farmers to manage bobwhite on their own properties.
“It’s kind of neat when you start talking to the older generation. The bobwhite whistle is one of the most common calls they remember,” Peters said.
“When we get into this project, it would be nice in the years to come if folks all across West Virginia can hear the pleasant bobwhite whistle again in the Mountain State.“
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