If only the questions surrounding quail were black and white then the answer would be simple.
But there are a lot of grey areas, and because of that it is hard for anyone to say exactly what needs to be done.
It is apparent Texas Parks and Wildlife doesn’t know what to do about Texas’ quail decline either.
While researchers from various universities north of Austin are concerned that something is impacting quail numbers, TPWD is proposing a separate season in East Texas. Maybe different dates for North and South Texas as well, but nothing else.
If there is a problem with quail numbers in Texas, and the department isn’t saying there is, it may not be anything that a little rain and time can’t cure.
Bobwhite quail numbers are on a downward slide, more of a slide than the norm that comes with years of booms and busts depending on the weather and habitat. And while there are years that are better than others, they don’t seem to be as good as those in the past, and the down years seem to come more often and last longer.
Is it environmental? Is it disease? Is it more efficient hunting? Maybe it is a combination of some or all.
No one seems to know, but because of the interest in quail hunting in Texas experts are scrambling for answers and solutions.
Without proof of the problem being anything but a lack of rain and declining habitat, TPWD believes changes in regulations isn’t the solution.
“Quail populations have been highly correlated with weather variables in the semi-arid portions of their range and will likely have a positive response to more favorable breeding conditions,” said Robert Perez, TPWD’s quail program leader.
As far as an environmental condition outside, or rain and habitat, the department is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“However, the role disease, parasites and environmental contaminants play in the annual life cycle of quail is poorly understood. There are several researchers currently investigating these factors. I look forward with keen interest to the results of these studies as we all agree that the face of the Texas landscape continues to change in a direction less friendly to quail. The impacts of these other factors may be amplified in these areas of fragmented quail habitat,” Perez added.
The department has repeatedly said that asking hunters to cut back either in hunting days or bag limits is an admission that hunting is part of the problem and something it doesn’t want to broach.
There are studies that indicate hunting doesn’t play a role in quail numbers available for nesting. They add that to have an impact the harvest number would have to be reduced dramatically to say six or eight birds. The reality is that the statewide average hunter’s daily bag currently doesn’t come close to that.
There are other experts who suggests that with better dogs, better ammunition and the use of ATVs to cover more acreage, today’s hunters are more efficient than ever and might have an impact on individual properties.
The state of Oklahoma has created a brochure called “Upland Urgency: The Fight Against Bobwhite Quail Declines” (http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/quail/upland_urgengcy.pdf).
It looks at issues from habitat, to predators, warming temperatures and disease.
“The impacts of long-term drought on short-lived species like quail are quite significant,” Perez said. “Quail begin to disappear across large areas of previously suitable habitat and are relegated to islands of (remaining habitat). As conditions improve, quail begin to expand into areas that have responded to timely rainfall.”
No one knows how long it might take quail to recover from last year’s drought even under good conditions. Perez guesstimates at least three years.
This thing has gotten so twisted that Parks and Wildlife commissioners didn’t set next year’s quail season when it did other regulations in March. It will discuss season framework again at its May meeting and set final regulations in August.
To be setting a season in East Texas is a waste of time. There isn’t enough broodstock throughout the region to fill a skillet.
And while a reduced bag or limit isn’t up for consideration, saying that doing so sends the wrong message is absurd. History is full of both TPWD and federal regulations that show hunters have always been willing to bite the bullet when asked even if they weren’t the cause of the problem. It has only been in recent years that Parks and Wildlife has adopted the policy of “creating as much hunter opportunity as possible.”
Hopefully rain is the answer, but just guessing I would say that is about a 20 percent chance.
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