Everyone Can Help Restore Wildlife Habitat

On our wall hangs an ammunition poster printed in the 1940s featuring a crouched rabbit and ten Bobwhite quail. Painted by sporting artist Lynn Bogue Hunt, it celebrates bygone days when hunting was a favorite fall pastime.

When somebody knocked on a farmhouse door to ask permission to hunt, most farmers gladly obliged. On opening morning of hunting season, family members would arrive, typically with a pointer or setter. Hunters carrying shotguns would follow the dog along overgrown fence lines and weedy corners of the farm. Quartering back and forth, the dog would suddenly freeze mid-stride. The nearest shooter would ease towards the pointing dog. As a covey of Bobwhites suddenly flushed and scattered from their hiding place, everyone would attempt a shot, mindful of their shooting lanes. Afterward, the landowner was offered a brace of quail as a thank-you.

Most farms today have no briary fencerows or weedy corners. Without them, native Bobwhite cannot survive. Hunting quail around here is limited to shooting preserves where pen-raised quail are shot—an artificial and costly alternative—versus trained bird dogs.

We can learn from our mistakes because this has happened before.

Back in 1900, virtually all big game had been nearly wiped out. The great flocks of waterfowl that migrated from Canada were gone. In the 1890s, hardly a white-tailed deer could be found east of the Mississippi River.

When all states adopted regulated hunting seasons and required hunters to purchase a license each year, things began to turn in wildlife’s favor, and habitat restoration began. The federal duck stamp, purchased by all duck hunters in addition to their state hunting license, provided funds to maintain waterfowl habitat on National Wildlife Refuges where wild ducks breed and rest during migration. Each state has a multitude of habitat restoration programs funded chiefly through hunting license sales.

Worth Saving

Habitat improvement programs are also funded by private sportsmen’s organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Izaak Walt League, Quail Unlimited, and Pheasants Forever.

Their efforts have succeeded. With better habitat, most game species now are thriving, along with other wildlife. Lakes, rivers, and ponds sustain not just waterfowl but furbearing mammals, fishes, amphibians, dragonflies, and water plants. Forest edge habitat that deer, rabbits, and quail prefer are prime nesting places for songbirds.

Hunters have a vested interest in maintaining healthy, sustainable numbers of wildlife if they want to continue to hunt. Last month, I talked to a local couple who are restoring quail habitat on their land. They’re hunters who train their field champion dogs to compete in field trials. They don’t intend to shoot wild quail on their farm. They just want to have them around and enjoy seeing the native plants and other wildlife.

Non-hunters and hunters have just as much to lose, as climate change and development combine to create a new environmental crisis. To offset this loss, non-hunters can also buy a hunting license and a duck stamp just to help restore wildlife habitat. And everybody can plant pollinator gardens. Backyard habitat programs are sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation. To preserve wildlands throughout the world, donate to the Nature Conservancy.

If we find common ground protecting such joys of nature, we can ensure their future. If not, we all lose.

Bobwhites are more than gamebirds. They’re indicators for early successional forest habitat. Their song is a joy to hear. A line of quail chicks with a parent at both ends crossing a country road is worth saving.

 

— Doug is an artist, writer, and naturalist living near Shepherdstown.

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