KubotaoftheOzarks

Ozarks biologists earn national honor for quail conservation

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Two Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) biologists were recently honored for their work on a job that’s being tackled by biologists in many states – making habitat better for bobwhite quail.

Frank Loncarich and Kyle Hedges received the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s (NBCI) Fire Bird Conservation Award. The two MDC biologists were honored in August at NCBI’s annual meeting in Galloway, N.J. Loncarich is a wildlife management biologist who works out of MDC’s Neosho office and Hedges is a wildlife management biologist who works out of MDC’s office in Bolivar.

Wildlife management biologists Kyle Hedges, left, of Bolivar, and Frank Loncarich of Neosho have been honored with the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative's Firebird Conservation Award. Their efforts at the Robert E. Talbot Conservation Area in Lawrence County is one of a number of MDC areas wherethe two biologists have helped to establish good quail habitat by using a combination of prescribed fire and livestock grazing.

Wildlife management biologists Kyle Hedges, left, of Bolivar, and Frank Loncarich of Neosho have been honored with the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s Firebird Conservation Award. Their efforts at the Robert E. Talbot Conservation Area in Lawrence County is one of a number of MDC areas wherethe two biologists have helped to establish good quail habitat by using a combination of prescribed fire and livestock grazing.

The NBCI’s Fire Bird Award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to quail research and management. The name “Fire Bird” stems from the relationship that exists between prescribed fire and good quail habitat.

In the case of the award presented to Loncarich and Hedges, the name fits because fire is one of two major components of the grassland management strategy they use. This strategy, known as “pyric herbivory,” combines two factors that influenced plant growth over much of the central and western U.S. in pre-settlement and early settlement times. Native plants developed in an environment that was heavily influenced by fire, in the form of wild prairie fires and intentionally set blazes, and grazing, which was done by the large herds of bison that once roamed the landscape.

Young quail on the nest with their mother.

Young quail on the nest with their mother on a makeshift nest.

Prescribed fire is used as a habitat management tool throughout the bobwhite’s range, but traditional Midwestern quail management strategies haven’t combined it with grazing. That’s what is unique about the strategy of Loncarich and Hedges; they’ve shown this combination works in this part of the country, too. Collectively, Loncarich and Hedges manage 26,000 acres of MDC land in southwest Missouri. Their use of fire and grazing on quail areas they manage has shown that these tools can be applied to Midwestern landscapes with positive results for quail and other grassland species. Loncarich and Hedges are also leading a long-term study of the effects of different landscapes and management approaches on bobwhite ecology.

It’s important to stress that increasing quail numbers is not the only goal of grassland habitat projects. The bobwhite quail is one creature in a rich mosaic of birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians that comprise a grassland ecosystem. Improving quail habitat has benefits for many of these species, too.

Furthermore, management for grassland species doesn’t only benefit wild creatures that use the landscape. It often helps domestic ones, too. Promoting growth of native warm-season grasses as part of a rotational grazing system provides livestock forage that is higher in nutrition during summer than cool-season grasses like fescue.

Currently, MDC implements quail-friendly management on a number of conservation areas across the state. Additionally, MDC staff provides technical assistance and/or funding to Missouri landowners for quail management on more than 116,000 acres of private land. Having this much land in some type of quail management is an indication of what many state residents already know: Missourians care about conserving forests, fish, and wildlife.

More information about quail management can be found at http://mdc.mo.gov/node/3678.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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