Hanger Takes Aim At Quail

Sen. Pushes For Preservation Efforts

Posted: January 15, 2014

HARRISONBURG — Bill and Ginny King have worked for years to create and maintain a wildlife habitat on their property east of New Market, hopeful that one species in particular would stop by: the Virginia bobwhite quail.

“But they haven’t shown up,” Bill King said.

The retired couple, however, doesn’t take it personally. Virginia’s quail population has been dipping for decades, enough so that the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries says it is “in peril.”

Now the General Assembly, with Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, taking the lead, may step in to help.

“It might seem like a trivial thing, but it’s actually a fairly significant indicator of environmental health,” Hanger said of an increased quail population.

Hanger has filed a bill that would create a seven-member commission to study ways to preserve the quail. He said it will help the game department’s attempts to grow and preserve the population, which included the development of an action plan several years ago.

From conservation meetings he’s attended, Hanger has learned that a number of landowners have created quail-friendly habitats, some of them just out of admiration of the bird’s call.

Habitat loss, predators and disease are among the factors that have contributed to the population’s decline.

“Anything that likes to eat quail likes rabbit,” Bill King said, “but rabbits are able to reproduce faster.”

According to the game department’s action plan, quail declined annually by 4 percent between 1966 and 2007. The exact figure isn’t mentioned, but it notes a decline in the number of quail harvested by hunters from 1.3 million in 1965 to 66,000 in 2005.

From a sportsman’s standpoint, Hanger adds, quail is a bird people “love” to hunt and see. In the department’s action plan, it says rural Virginia economies are hurt when quail hunting declines. The total loss to the commonwealth was more than $23 million between 1991 and 2004, the plan says.

That’s evidence of an old problem, which Hanger is hopeful can get a new solution through the seven-member task force.

Said Hanger: “It’s like restoring the [Chesapeake] Bay for fish.”

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or pknight@dnronline.com

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