June 21, 2017
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which has already received matching funds from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to bring aboard a biologist devoted to habitat restoration for the northern bobwhite, is hoping that more NRCS money could be coming its way to bolster the AGFC’s quail initiative.
The AGFC submitted a request in late April to the NRCS for funds that would create six additional biologist positions like the one approved last year. If approved, the AGFC would match NRCS money, and those new biologists would work under the auspices of Quail Forever, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of quail, pheasants and other wildlife through habitat improvement, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.
“We had one position that was already funded,” said Chris Colclasure, AGFC assistant deputy director. “That application was submitted about a year ago and funded. What we want to do is add six more, because you look at how many private lands biologists we have, we only have nine for the state, or about one for every 8.5 counties.”
If the AGFC were able to enroll dozens or more landowners into financially assisted habitat improvement programs such as Working Lands for Wildlife or Acres for Wildlife, its private lands biologists would be overwhelmed, Colclasure said. Hence, the need for more positions. The funding would pay for three years of work, “with the hopes of maybe continuing it, as we are successful,” said Marcus Asher, a biologist who is leading the AGFC’s bobwhite initiative.
The new biologists would differ from the AGFC’s roster of private lands biologists in that their focus would be totally on quail. The AGFC’s nine private lands biologists also are involved with deer projects and the “Learn to Burn” prescribed burning initiative, among other duties, Colclasure said.
AGFC commissioners gave the go-ahead in May for the agency to hire the approved and funded position, according to Asher.
Quail Forever is the supervising authority for the new position, as well as the ones proposed by the AGFC. Even if NRCS is not able to provide matching funds, the AGFC has an alternative plan.
“If we don’t get funded, one thing we talked about was funding 100 percent of three positions,” Colclasure said. “That was what we were originally looking at, to help Quail Forever for some cost-share positions because it’s easier for us to do that than get positions on the state level, to find a place for them to sit, get them computers. All that takes a lot of work in a lot of ways. This is a good partnership opportunity.”
If the AGFC adds biologists through its partnership with Quail Forever, it is likely each would be assigned to one of the AGFC’s strategic focal landscapes to concentrate and connect habitat improvement efforts. “Some of the states that have really good quail programs have these positions,” Colclasure said. “Missouri has quite a few of the positions, Kentucky has quite a few of the positions. There are other states taking advantage of this opportunity, as well.”