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Frye: Questions and answers on quail

| Saturday, March 4, 2017, 6:06 p.m.
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Efforts to restore bobwhite quail in Pennsylvania and elsewhere will only succeed if reintroductions are accompanied by landscape-level habitat changes, said one expert.

This truly is starting from square one.

Pennsylvania Game Commission went looking for wild, naturally reproducing populations of bobwhite quail in 2014. It found none.

Soon, though, the agency hopes to bring them back. It has determined where and is working on how. All that will determine the when.

Tom Keller, a biologist with the commission who is leading the effort, said the commission looked statewide for quail habitat.

“And we did find some,” he said. “But it was very few and far between. We're basically looking at 140,000 acres in a large state.”

As in 45,000 or so square miles large.

So the commisison settled on trying to restore quail on 3,500 of those acres, all within the larger, 12,000-acre Letterkenny Army Depot near Chambersburg. The goal over this year and next will be to develop as much habitat as possible.

The site is as close to being bobwhite ready as anywhere in the state, Keller said but added: “We certainly don't want to think it's ready to go.”

Doing additional work there will be key to taking the next step in the recovery effort, which is getting wild birds from another state.

Quail numbers are depressed just about everywhere, Keller said. He thinks, though, the commission will be able to get some seed birds if it can prove it has created suitable habitat and has a plan in place for monitoring how the birds do.

“I think that will be the biggest thing, proving that we have a plan in place, that we're not just throwing quail out on the landscape,” Keller said.

Once the birds are on the ground, the next step will be long-term monitoring.

If all goes well, the commission could be asking states for birds by next year, Keller said. At the latest, he hopes to get them by 2019.

As for how this might go, there's not a whole lot of precedent.

“We're pretty well the first state that's going to try to bring bobwhites back from zero,” Keller said.

Other state wildlife agencies understand that, said Bryan Burhans, the commission's deputy executive director for administration. They've got their eyes on Pennsylvania.

“Everybody's looking, so we've got to be successful here,” he said.

In the meantime, a couple of hunters asked the commission recently why it doesn't just raise and stock quail, much like it does pheasants.

There are reasons.

“Could we raise quail? Sure we could,” Boyd said. “But there's going to be costs associated with that.”

The commission would need different machines and procedures from those used on pheasants to raise the birds, he said. There would be the question of return on investment. Hunting quail is fun, he admitted.

“But how many quail does it take to make a pheasant, as far as body size for your meals? I think you'd probably have to shoot five to get a pheasant,” he said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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