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December 23, 2014Spartanburg man receives Fire Bird Conservation Award for dedication to bobwhite quail

South Carolina hunter Mark Coleman of Spartanburg was recently awarded the state’s Fire Bird Conservation Award for his contributions to wild bobwhite restoration.

Coleman was recognized in the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s National Fire Bird Conservation Awards at the annual meeting of the nation’s bobwhite experts in Iowa. He was also congratulated by the S.C. Natural Resources Board for this honor.

Award recipients are chosen by the respective National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative-member state’s quail coordinator for their contributions to that state’s efforts toward habitat-based restoration of wild bobwhite populations.

The award’s name symbolizes the historic relationship between bobwhites and fire in much of the iconic game bird’s range. The fire-and-quail connection was especially pronounced in South Carolina. For many millennia, fire maintained much of the Southern landscape in an “early successional” stage, that is, in an open landscape of native grasses, wildflowers and “weeds” providing bobwhites with suitable habitat.

According to South Carolina’s Small Game Project supervisor, Willie Simmons: “As a private citizen, Mark Coleman has been a cooperator in DNR’s Quail Hunter Survey for more than 15 years. During that time, he has maintained constant contact with the Small Game Project, offering assistance with projects and initiatives.

“Mark is a staunch supporter of DNR and of scientific wildlife management in general. Following publication of the NBCI 2.0 (in 2011), Mark was one of the few quail hunters, if not the only one in South Carolina, to embrace the new planning paradigm, openly and wholehearted supporting the plan in conversations with other bird hunters and in various public forums."
Through conversations with the DNR Small Game Project and with NBCI Director Don McKenzie, Coleman heeded the call to action from the initial State of the Bobwhite report and immediately engaged policy makers in South Carolina. He personally appeared before the DNR Board to request and promote wild bobwhite management in South Carolina.

“Although he is far too modest to accept any credit or praise," Simmons said, "Mark was directly responsible for renewed emphasis and urgency on completion of South Carolina’s statewide quail restoration plan. He continues to this day to offer financial and logistic support for establishment of a statewide quail council, the next step in implementation of the South Carolina plan.”

Fires intentionally set by landowners to clear farm fields and woodlots, and for other land management reasons, historically resulted in abundant habitat for bobwhites, as well as numerous other wildlife species. The term “fire bird” in relation to bobwhites was first coined by naturalist and scientist Herbert Stoddard, who researched bobwhites and worked to restore bobwhite habitat in the early 20th Century.

Johnny Stowe, S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife biologist and forester who represents the department on the S.C. Prescribed Fire Council, said: “Mr. Stoddard was the first wildland fire scientist, something the Southeastern United States can be very proud of. He laid the foundations of ecological fire science, a discipline that is today multifaceted and permeates all parts of the globe. And even more impressive is the fact that his prescient advocacy was counter to the powers-that-were, who tried to suppress his research findings. He was a true pioneering hero."

Today, “prescribed” fire under carefully selected conditions by trained professionals has become an increasingly important tool for helping create and manage habitat for bobwhites, as well as a suite of songbirds and other wildlife that require early successional habitat to survive.

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