It has been well documented that bobwhite habitat has steadily decreased and habitat fragmentation has increased. In 2006, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Natural Resources Conservation Service partnered together to improve bobwhite habitat on a landscape level with a program called the Quail Habitat Restoration Initiative (QHRI) through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. This initiative was developed to address the decline in bobwhite numbers using information received from resource professionals, producers and habitat evaluations across the state.
The QHRI is targeting five different watersheds across the state for habitat restoration. These areas were chosen based on the amount of remaining habitat and the potential of making an impact on a landscape level. Each area has a different dominant plant community that is specific to that area of the state. In each area, different management practices will be implemented to improve bobwhite habitat. The benefit of the QHRI is that it offers resource managers cost-share assistance for implementing bobwhite habitat-friendly management practices.
In the two areas targeted in the Noble Research Institute service area, the main focus will be improving native plant diversity on existing rangeland, as well as improving nesting habitat quality on native pasture and hay fields. Planned management practices include grazing management, mechanical brush management, prescribed burning, fireguard preparation, upland wildlife habitat management, tree and shrub planting, forage harvest management, grass planting and fencing.
Brush management practices, such as prescribed burning and mechanical treatments, are designed to create clearings and/or thin wooded areas to restore savanna conditions while controlling eastern red cedar, elms, hackberry and locust trees with a goal of maintaining at least 20 percent shrub coverage.
Prescribed grazing will be used to maintain an average of at least 8 inches of residual native warm-season grass height year-round to provide nesting and brood rearing cover. Patch burning in combination with grazing may be used to create early successional habitat.
In areas that need more brushy cover, tree and shrub planting to form thickets greater than 10 feet in diameter may be implemented. Tree and shrub plantings, new native grass plantings and other sensitive areas may also be fenced. This program will also offer upland wildlife habitat incentives that can be applied to areas that are enrolled in the program and that need habitat modification. Examples of this would be leaving strips of uncut grass in hay fields or half-cutting trees along a tree line and leaving them for woody cover.
To be eligible for this program, a landowner must have land inside a designated watershed. If a landowner has land that is outside the designated area, but is connected to land inside the area, they are still eligible to be enrolled in the program. Conservation practices can be applied in pastures, hay land and croplands when they provide a corridor for wildlife to existing native plant communities that are in excess of 80 acres and are located within a quarter-mile of the targeted native plant community.