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Frye: Quail quandary hard one to fix

| Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 8:31 p.m.

I remember the smirk.

More than a half-dozen years ago, at the end of a Pennsylvania Game Commission meeting in Harrisburg, the agency announced it was rolling out an “upland game bird” series of pocket knives.

Each would come with a collectible tin highlighting one of the five species presumably most popular among wingshooters: ruffed grouse, woodcock, mourning doves, ring-necked pheasants and bobwhite quail.

The guy next to me leaned in close.

“What's it say when two of the five birds in your series aren't anywhere to be found?” he asked me with a shake of his head.

Such has long been the sorry state of pheasants and quail in this state.

Things have turned around with ringnecks, to a degree. The commission is back to stocking about 200,000 a year, providing put-and-take shooting, and efforts to create habitat and jump-start populations of wild pheasants appear to be working in places if not everywhere.

But quail?

Scarce is the hunter who can say he's actually seen a wild bobwhite in Pennsylvania let alone shot one.

There was a time, into the 1930s, when hunters took up to 200,000 annually in Pennsylvania, said commission biologist Ian Gregg. By the early 1970s, harvests were down to about 50,000.

Now? The 2011 take was fewer than 2,300 quail, and no one knows if those were wild or stocked birds.

Bringing quail back in huntable numbers could take three decades, Gregg said, so there's no immediate fix available.

At the board's most recent meeting, he noted the commission adopted a bobwhite management plan in 2010 but has seemingly done nothing with it. Only this year is the commission starting to collect the historical data on quail and determine if there's any habitat left and whether it might be possible to create more. The delay has been a function of limited time and resources, said executive director Carl Roe, noting that all work is “driven by the bodies available.”

Commissioner Jay Delaney of Luzerne County wants to get that work started, and now, for the sake of small game hunting.

“This is another small part of that puzzle,” 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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