Landowners may be eligible for financial and/or technical assistance to enhance and improve wildlife habitat. One such program, offered through U.S. Department of Agriculture-Farm Service Agency (FSA), is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CRP practices have been fundamental in the recovery of dwindling bobwhite quail populations in South Carolina, as well as across the nation.
The conservation practice known as "CP33," or quail buffers is part of CRP and aims to improve quail habitat by creating buffers along row-cropped fields. South Carolina received an allocation of 10,000 acres for landowners who may enroll eligible lands into CP33 that have been row cropped at least four years during 1996 to 2001. Participating landowners must establish a buffer of 45 feet minimum and 120 feet maximum around the perimeter of a field (minimum 50 percent of perimeter). S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Biologist Meg McElveen said, "These transitional "edge" areas around agricultural fields provide vital nesting and brood-rearing areas for quail, as well as important habitat for songbirds and other wildlife." Approved CP33 contracts receive annual rental payments for a 10-year period, a signup bonus of $100 per acre, cost-share and practice bonus payments for the installation of the CP33 practice. According to McElveen, "Nearly 950 acres of quail buffers have already been established in Williamsburg County, and 5,364 total acres State wide."
CP33 Habitat Buffers video>>>
The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) also offers assistance through the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP). This voluntary cost-share program seeks to develop or improve wildlife habitat on privately owned land. In SC, WHIP helps landowners create quality habitat for upland wildlife, waterfowl, fish, and threatened and endangered plant and animal species, especially bobwhite quail.
One Williamsburg County landowner has seen firsthand the benefits of USDA technical and financial assistance for improving wildlife habitat. As an outstanding steward of the land, and avid quail hunter, Lee Ballard believes in caring for the natural resources on his 328-acre property. Lee and his wife, Anne, have created ideal quail habitat on their property using both CRP and WHIP. "We wanted to make sure we were taking care of the wildlife that depends on this land for survival and give quail all the cover they could want." They established 120-feet of CP33 around all their agricultural fields, totaling just over 33 acres of quail buffers. In 2006, Lee conducted call counts on 9 points that he monitors as part of the program, and reported three times as many quail calling than in 2005, including 6 coveys calling on one point.
They also enrolled fifty-two acres of woodland into WHIP, and established habitat improvements such as pre-commercial thinning of timber stands, establishment of firebreaks and a prescribed burning regime, as well as chemical hardwood control. "I love the way the woods look now, so open and clear," said Anne. "We enjoy walking with our grandsons and seeing so many more animals and wildflowers coming back." The Ballards are so impressed with the improvement of their woodland, they are hoping to enroll 60 more acres into WHIP this coming year. "We haven't seen the full impact of the habitat improvements, but we've given the quail some good ground cover and beautiful nesting habitat, so we expect they will be coming back strong soon," stated Lee.
For more information on USDA conservation programs like CRP and WHIP, contact your local USDA Service Center. For information on habitat management for quail, contact the DNR Small Game Project at (803) 734-4306.