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#06-279 October 16, 2006  

Sign up to improve bird habitat with 'quail strips'

Landowners may be eligible for a program to establish habitat for quail and other upland bird species. The program would require establishing or retiring a border, commonly referred to as “quail strips,” around row-cropped fields.
           
CP33 Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds through the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program is aimed at creating 250,000 acres of habitat for the Northern bobwhite quail across its range. This initiative provides an opportunity for private landowners to make a difference on the landscape and provide critical nesting and brood rearing habitat for bobwhite quail as well as other grassland birds by establishing habitat buffers for upland birds. These buffers will not only provide beneficial habitat but will continue to protect soil and water quality.

Landowners may signup at any time at a local Farm Service Agency. The agency can provide information on eligibility, actual payments and other questions regarding upland bird habitat buffers. Contact information for county Farm Service Agency offices can be found at http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?state=sc&agency=fsa. For information on quality habitat management for quail, contact the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Small Game Project at (803) 734-4306 in Columbia.

Approved contracts will receive annual rental payments for a 10-year period, a sign up bonus of $100 per acre, cost-share and practice bonus payments for the installation of the practice.

A landowner has to establish a buffer around the perimeter of the agricultural field (minimum 50 percent of perimeter) at 45 feet minimum and 120 feet maximum. The buffers are to be maintained by fall or winter discing or prescribed burning. Woody plants, Bermuda grass, tall fescue and bahia grass must be controlled. The buffers are not food plots and are not for the production of hay, forage or crops. The buffers cannot be used as turn rows, roads or storage areas for crops or equipment.

“This program is putting back a component that has been pretty much eliminated over the past 40 to 60 years,” said Judy Barnes, wildlife biologist with the DNR Small Game Project. “Fall quail populations are dependent on the reproductive success of the preceding spring and summer months. Adequate, high-quality nesting cover allows quail and other ground-nesting birds ample opportunity for nest site selection, and reduces nest losses to predators.”

Establishing a field border adjacent to an agricultural field provides critical nesting and brood rearing habitat for bobwhite quail, other ground nesting birds, and songbirds as well as a valuable food source. Quality nest sites are characterized by bunchgrasses such as broomsedge and annual weeds, according to Barnes. These plants provide bare ground and space is available between stems and bunches of grass to allow easier mobility for quail chicks. Discing and stimulating the growth of native vegetation in these field borders will provide critical nesting and brood rearing habitat.

In 2004, South Carolina received an allocation of 5,000 acres and a Focus Area was identified consisting of 18 contiguous counties (Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun, Chesterfield, Clarendon, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Hampton, Horry, Lee, Marion, Marlboro, Orangeburg, Sumter, Williamsburg) with the greatest percent of cropland.

Another 5,000 acres was received in 2006 for South Carolina landowners who may enroll eligible lands that have been row cropped in at least four years during 1996 to 2001.            
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