New Jersey Audubon is embarking upon an ambitious effort to restore Northern Bobwhite to New Jersey. According to the data from the Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count, the Northern Bobwhite quail has suffered one of the most severe population declines of any North American bird (an approximately 82% decline in the last forty years). This decline, attributed to habitat loss, fragmentation and predation, has also been connected to the significant loss of the young forest habitat. Habitat that is needed for nesting, resting, escape cover, and food resources. States in the southeast, particularly Georgia and Florida, have had success rebuilding quail populations through forest stewardship, including thinning pine stands with mechanical and herbicide treatments in conjunction with prescribed burning. This not only provides the critical habitat needs for Northern Bobwhite, but also benefits other young forest species and increases overall forest health. Since 1996, Tall Timbers Research Station in Florida has shown that through forest stewardship the Bobwhite population was increased 10-fold, reaching as high as two bobwhites per acre in the fall.
Recognizing the similarity in habitat between southern pine forests and the New Jersey pinelands, New Jersey Audubon staff began investigating sites and partners for potential habitat management conducive to Northern Bobwhite restoration. Almost simultaneously, discussions began with the Pine Island Cranberry Co. focused on Corporate Stewardship Council membership. Through discussions with Pine Island NJA learned of the scale of their property and also their efforts to undertake forest stewardship. Pine Island Cranberry owns approximately 17,000 acres in the heart of the pinelands and has been implementing a forest stewardship plan for years. In 2013 NJ Audubon welcomed Pine Island Cranberry as a member of the Corporate Stewardship Council and began specific discussions with them about potential stewardship projects, a requirement of Corporate Stewardship Council membership.
Pine Island Cranberry’s Forest Stewardship Plan emphasizes long-term active forest management on a landscape scale, while enhancing a wide range of forest resources, wildlife habitat, and ecosystem service benefits (e.g., improved watershed heath). “The key to this business is water,” said Pine Island Cranberry CEO, Bill Haines. “The protection of our water supply has protected this business from the beginning. That’s how this family (the Haines family) was raised: if you have a resource, it’s your responsibility to take care of it.”
The Forest Stewardship Plan for the property, developed by distinguished NJ State Approved Forester Bob Williams (recipient of the 2013 NJ Audubon Richard Kane Conservation Award), utilizes a variety of forestry prescriptions and techniques, including prescribed burning and forest thinning. Both techniques help to promote forest regeneration and native herbaceous plant and tree regrowth.
Recognizing the outstanding forest and land management practices at the Pine Island Cranberry site, NJ Audubon initiated discussion about a Northern Bobwhite restoration effort. These discussions included engaging several partners, starting with Pine Island Cranberry Company and Forester Bob Williams, but then quickly expanding to include Dr. Chris Williams from the University of Delaware, Dr. Theron Terhune at the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and Dave Golden with the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife. While Pine Island Cranberry and Bob Williams had been working diligently for several years on forest stewardship, Dr. Williams had been bringing students to the site to survey birds and other wildlife and was involved in a study of captive rearing and release techniques for quail at a site outside of NJ. NJ Audubon was also aware of the research efforts and depth of knowledge on quail conservation at the Tall Timbers Research Station. Through mutual friends NJA connected all the dots and arranged for Tall Timbers leading quail biologist to come visit with us and tour the Pine Island Cranberry property. Following that site visit and discussions about projects in nearby states, the decision was made to add the Pine Island site in New Jersey to a multi-state initiative to re-establish Northern Bobwhite in the Mid-Atlantic States. New Jersey will have the unique focus of releasing wild quail to the Pine Island Cranberry Property. Other aspects of the multi-state project include testing methods of raising and rearing captive bred quail in other states participating in the initiative, however no captive bred quail will be release in the NJ study.
Beginning in 2015 wild quail will be captured on private land in Georgia, health tested, radio tagged, transferred and ultimately released on Pine Island Cranberry’s property for study. Through the capture and release of 80 wild birds per year over the next three years (total of 240 wild birds) New Jersey Audubon and partners hope to establish a self-sustaining population of wild Northern Bobwhite in the heart of New Jersey’s Pinelands.
Financial support for the project has been generously provided by the Haines Family Foundation and other anonymous donors. To make a donation to the quail project please go to bobwhite.njaudubon.org. Photos courtesy of Tall Timbers Research Station and University of Delaware.