BOBWHITE QUAIL MORE IMPORTANT THAN OTHER ANIMALS?
The EPA plans to fine quail plantation owners in southern Georgia for what a colleague describes as "the criminal and unethical behavior of planting extremely deadly poisoned eggs on their properties." And by fines, I mean more than 5 million dollars!
Having been the recipient of unfriendly letters from a few Georgia quail enthusiasts two years ago after writing an article decrying such predator control practices, I cannot say I am sorry. Of course, the EPA must assure that the actual perpetrators are the ones fined.
Because the issue has resurfaced, I checked with someone in the know. Although my contact prefers to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal in his job, he is unquestionably an authoritative and reliable source. His statements below reveal what might be perceived as a problem.
"Because of the political weight many of these plantation owners have, from local government right up to Washington, D.C., they have hardly received a wristslap for their actions. As a professional biologist responsible for and passionate about wildlife conservation, I am not about to miss this chance to educate those less familiar with the issue.
"Bobwhite quail are definitely a declining species that is not debatable. However, the primary cause of their decline is the loss and deterioration of their preferred habitat, not predation of their nests. Most of the implicated plantations have fantastic habitat that has not only preserved the quail, but also a whole suite of otherwise rare plants and animals that depend on the longleaf pine wiregrass ecosystem.
"Thankfully, many of the southwest Georgia plantations are proud of their rare wildlife and manage their properties for biodiversity. Unfortunately, many others care about one species only, the bird that brings in the big, big bucks and the prestige of national celebrities, especially politicians. Having naturally normal populations of quail is not good enough they seek quail infestation. If you want lots of money and lots of big names, you must be able to flush more coveys than the next plantation. It's a competition, and it is rooted in financial and egotistical gain. Hence the reason their owners and managers seek methods to eliminate anything and everything that naturally depredates or competes with quail.
"The chemical and concentration used to poison eggs, and thus egg predators, not only killed those animals that ate them, but also killed animals that just briefly touched the poisoned animal corpses. Butterflies even died the moment they landed on dead, poisoned animals! These pesticides can even kill a small child, a disaster that almost happened at a Jasper County, South Carolina, quail plantation where a young child had to be rushed to the emergency room after unknowingly playing with a poisoned egg. If the egg had broken open, authorities said he would have very likely died.
"The worst part of this story is that politicians came to the defense of the plantation managers who demanded support for better ways to control quail predators that threaten their sufficiently thick, yet tainted, wallets and their ability to attract the rich and famous. In the environmental section of one Georgia congressman's periodic newsletters to his constituents, he touted his efforts to secure $625,000 for predator control studies, to be implemented for the benefit of the plantations that are dealing with slightly less than highly excessive quail populations. In other words, instead of being punished for criminal and wildlife ethics violations, the plantations are being rewarded."
He ends by saying, "I think bobwhite quail are fabulous birds, and I want future Georgians to be able to hear them, see them, hunt them, eat them, and enjoy them forever and ever. Improving their habitat is the right way to do it. Killing all other wildlife that also likes to hear them, see them, hunt them, eat them, and enjoy them is not."
I end by saying that a decline in bobwhite quail is unfortunate, and
research to determine the cause is appropriate. But indicting natural
predators as the culprits is not. If native wildlife is the cause of
quail population declines, then we face far more severe environmental
problems than the loss of a single species of bird.