LYON COUNTY — With Wednesdays rising sun behind him and a mixture of prairie and agriculture before him, Jim Pitman stood quiet for five minutes, waiting to precisely mark on a map the location of bobwhites singing their springtime song.
At that stop, as with about half of the 10 he made that morning, he heard no quail whistling.
Pitman, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism small game program coordinator, hopes a new five-year program can reverse the long-term decline of bobwhite quail in at least two once bountiful areas.
The Kansas Quail Initiative is backed by Wildlife and Parks and about 10 other conservation groups. They hope to focus a lot of resources in two areas one between Topeka and Emporia and another near Parsons in southeast Kansas. Combined, they encompass about 300,000 acres.
Weve worked with landowners all across the state for years, but that shotgun approach makes it hard to see any results, he said. If we work with a high percentage of landowners in a few focal areas we should be able to see better results.
The program offers landowners ready access to biologists for advice.
Wildlife and Parks has pledged up to $500,000 for the program. Groups ranging from The Nature Conservancy to Quail Forever are also contributing.
Pitman said the areas were picked because biologists see a lot of potential for habitat improvement and think many landowners will participate.
Both had great quail hunting a few decades ago.
We used to shoot a million quail in southeast Kansas (in the 1970s and 80s), Pitman said. Thats a lot more than any whole state shoots these days.
Habitat changes have been blamed for quail population declines in the eastern U.S. for more than 100 years.
Pitman said in Kansas, like many states, conversion of native prairie to fescue grass, cleaner farming and encroachment of trees have robbed quail of places to nest, raise young, feed and seek cover.
Its hoped the initiative can show landowners how some minor land use changes can reverse the downward trend.
Both initiative areas feature a sizable tract of public ground where biologists can hold educational field days and monitor particular land use practices.
Pitman hopes the 6,000-acre Grand Osage Wildlife Area, near Parsons, will become the programs crown jewel. The land that once held an ammunition plant has far to go.
Seldom is even a single quail seen or heard on the area. The Melvern Wildlife Area is only a little bit better.
After completing a route for an annual quail count, Pitman headed to the 10,000-acre area to see improvements that are part of the Quail Initiative.
Clint Bowman, area assistant manager, showed how all rivers and creeks will be traced on both sides with 100-foot wide strips planted to native grasses and forbs.
That should help combat a common problem of huge crop fields running into mature woodlands, leaving quail little adequate cover.
Trees had been removed in many areas so they no longer shaded weeds and grasses, and provide perches for feathered predators such as falcons.
Also on the tour was Jared McJunkin, a National Wild Turkey Federation conservation field supervisor. His group plans on being involved with the quail program.
We may have one species in our name, but were really about wildlife habitat, said McJunkin. Most of the work weve done (nationwide) benefits other species of wildlife.
This year the group has pledged $12,500 to the program. McJunkin said they can add another important gift to the initiative manpower.
Our members are out there, already hunting on a lot of these private lands and know these landowners, he said. They can get those people hooked up with the right biologist. If some landowner doesnt have the time or equipment to do a project, we can probably be there. We can make it as easy as possible for them.