Quail Forever, a St. Paul, Minn.-based conservation group, is encouraging farmers and ranchers to consider enrolling their environmentally sensitive acres in this spring’s Conservation Reserve Program general sign-up. The competitive sign-up period began March 27 and continues through April 14.

USDA is budgeted to accept up to 2.5 million acres during this sign-up. CRP is the nation’s most successful conservation program; preventing soil erosion, improving water quality, and creating wildlife habitat, while providing important payments to landowners.

“According to the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, 70 percent of all the quail coveys needed to restore bobwhite numbers to their 1980 levels will have to come from America’s farmland acres. This CRP sign-up is our chance to deliver some of the most fragile farmland acres back to quail as habitat,” said Dave Nomsen, QF’s vice president of governmental affairs.

The NBCI provides a landscape-scale road map for restoration of quail populations to their 1980 levels through habitat conservation. The Initiative was created by the Southeast Quail Study Group, a technical arm of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies that includes many of the country’s foremost bobwhite quail biologists.

Originally established in 1985, CRP offers annual payments for 10- to 15-year contracts to participants who establish grass, shrub, or tree cover on environmentally sensitive lands. Not only have these CRP lands been shown to improve water quality, protect environmentally sensitive soils from erosion, and provide critical wildlife habitat, but CRP also helps stabilize farmer’s incomes through the annual payments.

“CRP hasn’t been delivered to its potential for quail as it has been across the pheasant range of the Midwest,” reported Nomsen, who has been among the nation’s foremost CRP advocates as a Pheasants Forever employee since 1992. “Properly managed CRP acres can dramatically increase bobwhite numbers. Prescribed burning, native grass plantings, long leaf pine plantings, edge feathering, and other forms of CRP mid-contract management practices are ways we can improve and add quality CRP acres for quail.”

Enrolling land in CRP is a competitive process. Offering only the most environmentally-sensitive acres and agreeing to plant a high-scoring cover-type benefiting wildlife are the most important decisions a landowner can make when considering the CRP bid process.

QF recommends interested landowners contact their local Farm Service Agency’s Service Centers to learn about offering competitive bids. To find the Service Center in your area, go to: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/edso/.

Additionally, quail conservationists have a specifically targeted at improving quail habitat through the non-competitive Continuous CRP. CP-33, commonly referred to as Bobwhite Buffers, is a relatively new CRP practice targeted at improving bobwhite quail habitat through the creation of habitat buffers along row crops. There are 250,000 acres budgeted for the U.S. bobwhite range with most states still having thousands of acres available for enrollment.

QF was formed in August 2005 by Pheasants Forever to help reverse the rapid decline of quail populations across their U.S. range. QF, a non-profit conservation organization, accomplishes its mission through habitat improvement, land management, public awareness, education, and conservation advocacy. There have been 44 QF chapters formed in 19 different states during the organization’s first seven months of existence.