July 12, 2017
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
Henderson State University’s Simonson Biological Field Station made points with anglers earlier this year by conducting a large brush-pile project with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Black Bass Program, but where those trees came from may be an even greater story for conservation in Arkansas.
Biologists and educators with Henderson State, the AGFC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have worked together on the project, not only to benefit fish, but also create open habitat, suitable for northern bobwhite and other wildlife on the 200 acres surrounding the field station on the shore of DeGray Lake.
“The ultimate goal for this project is to restore much needed habitat that can be utilized by quail, turkey, deer, songbirds, reptiles and many other organisms,” said Marcus Asher, quail program coordinator for the Game & Fish Commission. “Open woodland characteristics will be established that will create widely spaced trees and open canopies that encourage plenty of understory vegetation used for cover and foraging.”
Another goal of the project is to educate landowners, school groups, faculty and other agencies about characteristics of quail habitat and how it can be created using prescribed burning, thinning and planting native vegetation.
In a release by the university, Tommy Finley, associate professor of biology at Henderson State, said the project, won’t be an overnight fix.
“It won’t happen overnight,” Finley said. “It will probably take five years to get close to where we want it. And it has to be maintained.
“We have always wanted to do something to enhance wildlife on the land. For research, if you want to work with animals, you must have animals to work with.”
Asher says AGFC will serve in a technical service role.
“We will provide guidance on management planning and even provide manpower assistance as needed to conduct prescribed burns, timber marking and spraying,” he said. “We will also present programs at field tours and workshops.”
Asher says this is the first quail restoration project coordinated with a university in Arkansas, and he hopes other possibilities exist with other colleges in the state.
“The quail restoration effort will have to be embraced by private landowners as well as public agencies if we are to succeed,” Asher said. “Universities can help us bridge the gap with landowners as well as the next generation of conservationists and show real-world examples of good habitat without causing too much impact on other land use objectives.”
“We hope this will help generate a lot of interest and get a lot of people interested in science,” Finley said. “We’re very proud of it. We feel it’s something important that needed to be done.”
Asher says timber thinning will occur initially, followed by prescribed burning that will be conducted on a two to three-year rotation.
“This strategy will ensure that one-third to one-half of the field station area will be burned annually,” he said. “Burning and thinning will allow sunlight to reach the woodland floor and stimulate native vegetation utilized by quail and other wildlife for nesting, foraging and escape cover.”
Henderson State plans to offer a new wildlife academic track beginning this fall and Finley anticipates students in that program will be heavily involved in the quail conservation project.
“They’ll get to work side-by-side with game and fish people,” he said. “For hands-on, you can’t get any better than that. They can build a relationship with possible future employers, including the Corps.”